Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, October 13

Girls Camp

My first big project is complete; quite possibly the only project that I’ll “complete” during my service. But to be honest, it should be an annual camp, so I guess the work is never really done. I wouldn’t consider it a slam dunk/ home run of a success… but I’m sure the girls would disagree with me.

From the girls’ point of view, we succeeded in getting them out of their communities for a week. We took them to a University in our region (something they’d never seen before), divided them into teams of people they’d never met before and taught them some really cool new things. We built their confidence by allowing them to talk about what they already knew, and then we showed them new ways to achieve the results they already wanted. They all want to graduate school and become professional working women, so our main goal was to teach them how to be successful member of both a family and the professional world- at the same time! Just one small example is that they know that stress causes high blood pressure, so we taught them how yoga can be used to reduce stress (and subsequently high blood pressure). We therefore conducted yoga class every day for 15 minutes; even the Senegalese adult staff joined in.

From my American point of view, the camp was executed- but we were amateurs. We finalized our guest list as we picked the girls up… calling back to base camp at the last minute. I’m sure it didn’t appear so, but we were stressed at having to organize these details all at the last minute. And I’m also sure that the next go around people will be RSVP-ing well in advance so this won’t be a problem. There were a few other glitches like this throughout the week but the only major problem was an obvious language issue. We, the volunteers, have varying degrees of fluency in multiple languages. And no matter how sure I am of my skill… by the end of the week I found myself so exhausted I could barely say the simplest things.

The best classes were those run by people who knew the material inside and out. Knowing that we should teach a subject and going for it just based on that, in my opinion, was sloppy. And I’m speaking about myself. I was co-chair of health day. I know just enough of the basics to keep myself in mildly good health. I had no business attempting an entire day on the subject. A health volunteer should have been called in. Or a doctor consulted, you could say. Live and learn, right? On the plus side, we moved from a question and answer section where weight loss was discussed to outdoor “Olympics” full of heart pumping fun. So no, the day wasn’t a failure, but it also wasn’t my proudest moment.

Other days were bigger successes. Gender development and future sparkled with its guest speakers; successful Senegalese professional women who were eager answer the girls’ questions about being a woman/ wife/ worker. Environmental day hit homers with its hands on composting, recycling, and micro-gardening. Business day won a place in every girl’s heart with its demonstration of home-made African-style Lip-Smackers’ lip gloss.

Ok, so even as I write this I feel like I’m talking myself into how great the camp really turned out. And yeah, lot of good was born from this week, but I saw things going so much more spectacular in my Mefloquine induced dreams. I envisioned an immediate call to action from every girl to start groups back in their home towns; this one for gardening, that one to sell lip gloss, another to start a yoga club. When asked about it, they all said they wanted to… but anyone who’s been in development work long enough knows that without prompt action from the overly enthused it probably won’t come to pass. I sigh once again at the thought that if we’re lucky one girl will take a minute to stretch her back with a yoga pose, or recycle an old water bottle, or ask a parent for lip balm ingredients. Hopefully…

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