A few months ago, I attended a training in Tirana starting up GLOW camps. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and this is the first official year that Peace Corps Albania has partnered with this cause. The last few months, a handful of volunteers, have held these girls camps in their sites. I am happy to say they have all been a huge success. Personally, I can’t think of a better cause to contribute to. You can’t go a day without noticing the gender roles here, and as an American female, that can be a bit frustrating. These camps have turned into a way for us to give back to the girls of Albania, and show them some of that wonderful female empowerment.
I had planned to hold my camp at the end of July, with help from the school Psychologist. A few weeks ago, I was told that we would have to move my camp up three weeks. Uh, okay, great?! So I set my planning into fast gear, which is not something that comes easy here. Regardless, we lined up the venue, girls and different activities that we would do at the first ever Permet GLOW camp! Things were looking up and I was excited to have an official project running smoothly. Earlier this week, as I was making last minute preparations, I met with my coworkers to set things in stone. The gym, where most of my activities were going to be held, had just become off limits to us. Apparently, there was now a camp with kids from Tirana that would be held at the same place for the entire week. So, the day before my camp was about to start, we sat at coffee, scrambling to find a different venue. I had to just sit there and laugh, and wish upon every star that my camp wasn’t going to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, my coworkers husband, who has been a godsend to me, provided some help. He called around the entire city and found us the keys for the middle school gym. We also decided that we would use his cafe for part of the camp. There have been countless projects that he has helped me with and I don’t know what I would do without him! Not to mention, he is the best cook in Permet.
I will admit, I was pretty nervous about my camps the night before. There have been so many things that have fallen through the cracks here and been a letdown. After living in Permet for well over a year, I NEEDED something to finally work out for the better. My site-mate, Jackie and close site-mate, Monika, had agreed to help me with my camp. They were so much help and provided another voice of support for the girls. The first morning, as I sat there and explained our agenda, they laughed at my visible jitters. The espresso I had while sitting there, probably didn’t help matters either.
The girls arrived and we started off with an ice breaker activity, something Peace Corps volunteers know all too well! Our first lesson topic was sexual health and we showed a few different videos and presented the different options they have for contraceptives. We also passed around sheets of paper to each girl and they had to write three questions each, which were anonymous and would later be answered by us. In my opinion, this was one of the most successful parts of camp. The questions we got from the group were so simple, but crucial knowledge for a female teen.
Can you get pregnant the first time? When is the right age to have sex? What is the best form of birth control? How does birth control work? Can you get pregnant on your period?
Most of these, are no brainers for those of us who went through sex-ed in America. However, for these girls, they have no one to ask these questions to. There is such a stigma attached to most of these topics that no one ever talks about them. Which results in friends talking to friends, and most likely, hearing the wrong information. It felt great to have a bare bones discussion with these girls about putting their safety first. Of course, in the midst of all these questions, someone wanted to know why my teeth were so white. Every time Albania, every time!
To get the girls up and moving, we did a few teamwork activities later on at the gym. Most of which, they had never heard of. Judging by the smiles and laughter, you could tell they were enjoying themselves.
For the remainder of camp, we focused on body image, confidence, nutrition and healthy stress outlets. The girls had a lot of questions, and we spent part of the morning, answering questions about basic nutrition and fitness. I also showed a few of the Dove Beauty Campaign videos and the girls were incredibly surprised at the amount of work that goes into the beauty ads that they envy.
I wanted to make these days as interactive as possible and I am happy to say I succeeded. One of the days we made “self-esteem flowers”, which were filled with adjectives that they like about themselves. I had forgotten, as a teen, how easy it is to focus only on the properties you don’t like. Jackie, Monika and I talked in length about why it is important to embrace your strengths and accept your weaknesses.
After our discussions about a healthy body image, we headed to the gym to get in a little exercise.
As my camp came to an end, I literally couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. For the first time in Albania, I felt as though I had run a successful project from start to finish. There had definitely been some bumps along the way but this time, it had actually worked out for the better! As the girls were leaving, we asked them if they had any tips on how we could improve the camp or if there was anything we should change. My favorite answer came from one of the quieter girls in the group. She said the camp was very different than anything she had ever been to before and that difference, is exactly what made it so great. Which is exactly why we, the strange Americans, are here. To show them that different is not only a good thing, but sometimes, it can be amazing!