Ever wonder what happens when a male volunteer spends a whole week at a girls’ empowerment camp?
Well, now that I’ve completed a week serving as a counselor at Peace Corps Grenada’s Camp G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World), let me tell you:
I sit on the cool tile, back against the railing of the balcony. Two closed, white wooden doors stand looming in front of me. The glass windows on either side of the doors are dark, only a dim light illuminating the far end of the room inside. Joyous laughter and muffled cheers ring out periodically from behind the doors. But outside it was quiet and peaceful, only the mechanical chorus of the crickets accompany me under the star-lit sky and silhouetted mountains.
Although the night was quiet and peaceful, my emotions were anything but. My heart thumped rapidly against my chest as butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Tilting my head back and closing my eyes, I inhale deeply. Holding my breath for a moment, I exhale slowly, trying to ease the racing of my heart.
“I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this,” I laugh to myself, shaking my head.
Just then the door cracks open and out slips Chanda, one of the camp counselors, who quickly closes the door behind her.
“Are we up yet?” I ask anxiously.
“One more; then us,” she responds.
Placing my hands on the ground, I push myself to my feet.
Chanda steps up to the window and peers back inside.
Needing a way to expel my pent-up nerves, I hop back and forth on my toes, the way a boxer would before his big fight. My heart continued pounding on my chest, almost looking for a way out the whole ordeal itself.
“I haven’t been this nervous in a long time,” I thought to myself. Only the last time I was this nervous, I was about to bungee jump off of a bridge over seven-hundred feet in the air.
Thankfully, this time the stakes weren’t as high (literally and figuratively). But I knew once I stepped through those doors, I would be facing something that to me was just as intimidating as a seven-hundred foot bungee. On the other side of those doors was over thirty teenage girls, and I was about to do the unthinkable and perform a dance routine in front of them.
But not only was I going to dance, I was going to dance to Beyonce.
“Lord, help me,” I laugh under my breath.
The door cracks open again and another counselor, Roya, steps out onto the dark veranda.
“You ready?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah,” I say confidently, a smile cracking across my face as I raise my hand for a high-five.
A sort of defense mechanism, I often try to approach my most uncomfortable, nerve-racking situations with a false sense of confidence. Oftentimes, it’s an attempt to convince everyone around me that I know what I’m doing, but sometimes the only one I’m really trying to convince is myself.
I stand before the doors as Chanda and Roya take their places behind me. It’s showtime.
Closing my eyes, I run the routine through my head one last time and take one final, deep breath.
The door swings open. I look up and confidently strut into the room the way a model walks down the catwalk. A raucous applause of teenage girls erupts in the room. Single Ladies by Beyonce begins playing on the loud speakers as we entered, but was nearly drowned out by the screams of the audience. I take my position in the center of the floor, just under the overhead stage lights with Chanda and Roya each a step behind me.
The nerves getting the best of me and unable to hear the music, I jumped right into the routine, dropping one foot back and snapping my fingers, rotating and repeating the motion on the other side. As I did this, however, I glanced back to notice Chanda and Roya were still in the starting position and hadn’t moved…
Yep…I jumped the gun.
Just as I came to this realization, the beat dropped and our routine began when it was supposed to. I quickly recovered, doing my best to catch up and make sure the routine was back in-sync. Inside I was vexed that I muffed the start, but I quickly pushed that to the back of my mind and focused instead on the routine at hand. Complete with side-steps, hip shakes, catwalks, and hand-turns, I followed the routine we rehearsed as best I could and didn’t think of anything else.
The song quickly reached its close and with a wide turn of the shoulder, I closed with an outstretched hand, the ring I borrowed from Chanda glimmering on my finger in the stage lights.
The place went nuts.
I laughed and celebrated with Chanda and Roya, my extraordinary back-up dancers. I walked over to a corner and stood in front of a fan by the window, catching my breath and wiping the sweat from my face. Sighing deeply, I finally began to relax as I posted up in the corner and delightedly watched the rest of the show.
Now what might all this have to do with Camp GLOW?
So little, yet so much.
For those that don’t know, Camp GLOW is a Peace Corps program put on by Volunteers across posts worldwide. In professional terms: Camp GLOW is a selective all-girl leadership camp designed to give promising, passionate secondary school girls the skills and knowledge to make a positive difference in their personal lives, their schools, and their communities. Girls aged 13-17 participate in group activities focusing on teamwork, self-esteem, goal-setting, and career development. Camp GLOW offers an opportunity for these young women to openly discuss their opinions regarding themselves, the world, and the future of both together. In addition to these activities, the girls also participate in a variety of team games, sports, crafts, art, and fun.
In layman’s terms: it’s a week-long camp that serves as an opportunity for at-risk teenage girls to discover themselves and empower them to become the leaders of the future.
The week started with some ice-breakers, as the girls came from secondary schools all across the island, and a majority of them were meeting each other for the first time. The air was filled with nervousness and uncertainty. For many of the girls, this was their first time away from home. To add to their discomfort and as per Camp GLOW procedure, their phones were confiscated for the week (the girls were allotted time to call home using the Camp Directors’ phones each night, otherwise no phones). They were sectioned off into pre-selected groups identifiable by color. Each group then had the task of coming up with a team name and a song or chant.
As one of the counselors of the yellow group, after some prodding and encouraging, eventually the girls in my group came up with the name “Golden Squad.” Then moving outside into the night, one of the girls thankfully took the reigns and orchestrated our song and chant to introduce our group to the rest of the girls. The Camp broke for the night as the girls were settled into their rooms and the counselors prepared for the long week ahead.
What followed suit was probably one of the craziest, most exhausting weeks of my life. Fact of the matter is, it all went by so fast. There was so much going on, with so little time. There were ups and downs, tears and laughter, frustration and anxiety, and an extreme lack of sleep.
Each day consisted of various workshops and learning sessions led by the Camp Directors, PCVs, counselors, and local women volunteering their time, effort, and resources in order to encourage these young girls to become the leaders they are capable of being.
Although the list below doesn’t cover all the workshops and sessions showcased in Camp GLOW, it will give you a basic understanding of the types of activities that the Camp entailed and how they fit into Camp GLOW’s greater mission:
Cake Decorating- For this workshop, a local bakery owner (and former GLOW camper), came in to discuss how she started her own business at the ripe age of 20. She explained the concepts and strategies in cake-decorating, showing the girls how to use the different instruments needed for the perfect touch. The girls then had an opportunity to try it themselves, decorating their own individual cupcakes and working together to create team cakes.
Yoga- Led by PCV Hannah, this session was an introduction to yoga as a means of meditation, exercise, and relaxation. The girls embraced the opportunity of trying various poses, maneuvers, and breathing strategies.
Natural Hair- A session lead by a local hair stylist, this workshop encouraged the girls to embrace and take pride in their natural hair. The campers learned how to properly care for their hair and establish healthy habits in maintaining their natural hair.
Improv- Two women came in to orchestrate a series of activities and games enabling the girls to think and express themselves freely. These included the games Ships and Sailors, Team Princess-Knight-Dragon (a form of rock, paper, scissors), Splat, and others. The session concluded with an opportunity for girls to come up with an impromptu political speech on a random topic which went surprisingly well with plenty of laughs.
Woodshop- Facilitated by one of the only female woodshop teachers on the island, the girls had an opportunity to measure and cut wood to create key rings. This was a hands-on experience for girls to work with power tools, paint, and create their own key rings to take home with them.
Public Speaking and Zumba- A local radio host and zumba instructor presented to the girls the keys to developing strong public speaking skills. The session included public speaking activities that enabled the girls to develop and showcase their skills by stepping out of their comfort zone. The public speaking session was then followed by a zumba class where the girls got to open up and burn some energy exercising to local soca music.
Spa Night- Because what would be a girls’ empowerment camp without a spa night? Led by the PCVs and camp counselors, the girls all received face-masks and spent a night properly taking care of their skin and embracing their natural beauty.
Financial Responsibility- A local woman came in to discuss with the girls financial responsibility and saving strategies. During this session, the girls were asked to create a fictional, financially-responsible person. Unfortunately, four out of the five groups had a male as their financially-responsible person. This goes to show the purpose of this camp is for the girls to realize that they can be that person.
Vision Boards- A secondary activity to the financial responsibility session, the girls were given a piece of cardboard and several magazines. From the magazines, they cut out pictures and pasted them to the cardboard, which became their “vision board” of who they want to be in the future. The vision boards were theirs to take home and use to motivate them to achieve the dreams they have set out for themselves.
TED Talks- After watching two TED Talks video segments, PCVs and Camp GLOW Directors Lili and Riley facilitated group discussions on bullying, social acceptance, and the power of spoken-word poetry.
Health and Personal Well-being- A local female doctor presented to the girls good habits to ensure a healthy body and lifestyle. These included tips on diet, exercise, sleep, hygiene, and mental as well as physical health.
Career Fair- One of the pinnacle opportunities for the girls, various local women came in to hold small-group discussions with the girls on the potential career opportunities for them. These individuals had backgrounds in social work, international commerce, consultation, education, professional dance, and business. The girls had the opportunity to ask these women questions about their field of work and how they came to attain those positions as well seek career advice.
Sex Education- Arguably the most important session of the week, a whole day was devoted to the discussion of sexual health and safe sex practices. Under the guidance of the female counselors and directors (I excused myself from these sessions for obvious reasons), the girls had a chance to debunk myths and misinterpretations of sex depicted by the media. A taboo topic, many of these girls never received the “sex talk,” and consequently now had the opportunity to ask trusted female counselors questions in order to understand fact from fiction when it comes to sex. During these sessions, the girls also learned how to properly use condoms to ensure that if they exercise their right to be active, they can do so in a safe manner.
Question Box- The question box, a staple of Camp GLOW, is a means for girls to ask the Camp directors and counselors questions anonymously. This quickly became a popular activity, as it facilitated deep and meaningful conversations on what are often-times taboo topics.
These were just some of the many activities and sessions in place at Camp GLOW that enabled the girls to discover themselves and empowered them to become the leaders of the future. On the final night of the camp, a talent show was held, during which my little dance routine made an appearance. A proper finale to the week, the talent show was a means for the girls to display their talents in front of their peers and build their self-confidence by putting themselves out in front of a large audience.
I suppose this is where all my rambling is supposed to come full circle. At the start of the week, I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting myself into. After all, I was going to be a male volunteer at a girls’ empowerment camp. What I didn’t realize, was that I was going to take part in one of the most rewarding and empowering experiences of MY life.
As I said before, on the very first night the girls arrived nervous, anxious, shy, and reserved. For many of them, it was their first night away from home. They were thrown into unchartered territory, not sure what to expect.
Then during the first days’ activities, a few of them began opening up and embracing the Camp. Others took a little more time, still wrought with homesickness and an overall disinterest in being there. But with each passing day, more and more girls began fully participating in the Camp’s activities and fostering friendships with each other. As time went on, their personalities not only began to develop, but shine brightly as well. They engaged each other, the counselors, the directors, and the guest speakers; they weren’t afraid to ask the difficult questions.
When they were called upon by the counselors to speak up or present, they did. They put themselves front and center, subjecting themselves to the opinions of their peers. Naturally as with teenage girls, there were times of stress and tears resulting from ‘girl drama.’ Whenever this happened a counselor would step in to console the girl, but as the week went on it was the girls that were picking each other up when one was put down.
The camp counselors were incredible. Talk about a group of women that I absolutely admire. They expressed empathy, patience, understanding, and love for the girls that at the start of the camp, they didn’t even know. They all had a task to fulfill, to be positive role models for the girls and provide a foundation for these girls to prepare for their own future. They were confidants and provided words of wisdom and experience. They were individuals the girls could aspire to be and established a standard of living for the girls to follow.
Camps such as GLOW that push for the cause of empowering girls to become the leaders of the future are needed not just in developing countries, but across the globe. For too many people, in too many countries, conversations centering on taboo topics such as sexual education, homosexuality, feminism, and the breaking of gender roles are not being held. These conversations are necessary for young girls and boys so that this world can continue moving forward to a more accepting and loving world. Children are our future, for it’s the girls and boys of this world that can instill progress to for a better, more tolerating, accepting, and peaceful world.
Although dancing to Beyonce’s Single Ladies was a relatively insignificant event in the grand schemes of the Camp, it was still probably one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. As a male counselor, in addition to providing the occasional comic relief, it was my role to convey the message to them that there are men out there that support the female empowerment movement. After witnessing the transformation of these campers from quiet, shy, and timid girls to outgoing, inspiring, and ambitious young women in the span of a short week, I felt I had to do something. If they could step out of their comfort zones and speak proudly, ask difficult questions, express their opinions, and embrace their love for their fellow girl, then why couldn’t I step out of my comfort zone and show my solidarity in them with their cause.
And what better way than to show support for feminism then by dancing to the queen of female empowerment herself, Beyonce.
Beyonce once said, “We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.”
I couldn’t find a quote that more accurately depicts not only the purpose of Camp GLOW, but how this change is already happening in this world. This change is already being implemented in thanks to women like Beyonce, women like the Camp GLOW directors, counselors, guest speakers, and Peace Corps Volunteers across the globe.
And that, my friends, is a cause worth dancing for.