Camp GLOW: Mission Accomplished

8 08 2012

Just as Tim’s hospitality project is taking off, one of mine is coming to a close. Last week, thirty-nine high school girls, two Cambodian teachers, four NGO staff members and five Peace Corps Volunteers gathered at the Siem Reap Provincial Teacher Training Center for a girls’ empowerment camp. The four-day camp focused on women’s health, rights and opportunities.

On Thursday, all of the girls, aged 14-20, arrived to the guesthouse. They came from three different villages, each approximately an hour or two outside of Siem Reap. This was the first time for some of them to ever visit Siem Reap, and the majority had never stayed in a guesthouse before. They excitedly settled into their rooms and then made the three minute walk over to the training center where we studied.

Group shot

For the first two days, staff from the Battambang-based NGO Our Strength led sessions about women’s health. One of the sessions that the girls cited as being the most informative and important was on menstruation and hygiene. Most of these topics are not taught in school, and the girls said they have never had an opportunity to ask such sensitive questions before. Other sessions touched on issues like sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, gender, Cambodian beliefs about sexuality, healthy relationships, etc. There were also several Q&A sessions, during which the girls demonstrated their complete trust in and respect for the presenters by asking a huge number of questions about their own health and bodies.

During a session related to gender roles

Group work

One thing that impressed me was how well the presenters integrated with the girls. When we would walk to a nearby restaurant together to eat, the staff would always sit and talk with the girls. They would call girls by name, take endless photos with them, and treat them like peers. Additionally, as I wrote in a recent email to the organization, the staff “modeled what it means to be strong, smart, socially-minded Cambodian women.” It was a real pleasure getting to know them and working alongside them.

The third day, we had an equally impressive speaker come from the Women’s Resource Center in Siem Reap. Having worked with the organization before, I knew that Pisey would do a great job. The third day, which started with a giggle-filled yoga session, focused on important issues like self-awareness, domestic violence and goal setting. Although they enjoyed all of the sessions, the girls really expressed an interest in the domestic violence part. In fact, two of the three groups of girls decided that they would teach their communities what they had learned about domestic violence.

Pisey facilitating a session on self-awareness

The fourth day was all about preparing the girls to be good community educators because each group is required to go back to their community to teach one aspect of what they learned at Camp GLOW. The girls enthusiastically prepared and presented mock sessions before diving into the plans for their real presentations. My group of girls will be coming over tomorrow to finish their lesson plan and to set a date for the education session(s). They think that domestic violence is an important issue in our community, and I whole-heartedly agree. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Overall, I think the girls were exposed to a lot of new information. The knowledge-based tests show that the girls nearly doubled their understanding of issues related to sexual and reproductive health. Compared to the first day, more girls at the end of the camp also indicated that they “have a lot of friends,” “are proud of themselves,” “have goals that they can achieve” and “are generally happy people.”

In fact, although the knowledge gained was certainly an important part of the camp, I think there was a lot more to be gained from the experience. It was amazing to watch how three distinct groups of shy, insular girls melded into one big, happy group of friends over the course of four days. One of the best activities we did was to have each girl decorate a paper bag with her name on it and hang it on the wall. Throughout the camp, the other girls would then write nice things about that girl and put it in her bag. At the end of the camp, each girl had a bag filled with compliments and the phone numbers of her new friends. This activity was one that definitely encouraged the girls to become closer.

Decorating paper bags

The beautifully decorated bags hanging from the wall

There were other experiences that were uncommon, or even brand new, for the girls. For example, they got to express themselves creatively as they decorated t-shirts, made bracelets and painted each others’ nails during the evening activities. They got to see a different side of their own country when we took a field trip to Siem Reap’s touristy night market and the town’s only shopping mall. They ate new foods at Lucky Burger, learned new ways to exercise through dance and yoga, and got to make real connections with the volunteers living in their towns.

First, we exercise…

Then we eat fast food

And THEN we eat ice cream. It’s the American way.

Just the experience of being away from families was a big deal for these girls, who often live in cramped quarters where they share a sleeping space with all of their family members. This culture does not allow for much independence so it was an interesting chance for them to examine themselves as individuals. This might all be very Western-slanting, but the girls echoed these ideas as well.

The camp culminated in a closing ceremony, where we gave each girl a certificate and a photo of all of the girls together. We also played a slide show of photos taken throughout the camp. While the girls cheered, laughed and blushed as their faces appeared on the big screen, it was hard not to get emotional. I thought back to all of the activities I did as a teen that I still vividly remember. These experiences – band trips, summer camps, Youth in Government – all played a part in my development. I can only hope that the students who came to Camp GLOW will look back on this experience with the same fondness and appreciation that I feel when I think back on my own. Either way, the most important thing is that they learned and will retain important information related to their health and well being.

The closing ceremony

Camp GLOW 2012 is over, but we’re already looking ahead to next year. In the meantime, I am eager to continue working with the girls as they plan and execute their community education sessions.

You can check out more pictures of the camp here.





2 responses

31 12 2012
Celebrating the Highlights of 2012 « TimKat's Travels

[…] during the first year of service. In the course of a month, I took the girls from my health club to Camp GLOW in Siem Reap, I helped organize and lead a training that would kick off a childhood nutrition […]

30 03 2013
This Year’s Girls’ Club | TimKat's Travels

[…] will be announcing which 10 of the thirty girls will be attending Camp GLOW in May. Our provincial girls’ empowerment camp has been funded again this year, with girls from six communities joining the activities. Each […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: