Avrankou VSLA

By Morgan Merge, CED volunteer

Every Thursday in the village of Avrankou just 10 km north of capital city, Porto Novo, I meet with 19 women for a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) meeting. The VSLA is a very simple and informal savings account. Once a week for eight months, each woman puts at least 200 CFA, which is about $.35, in a lockbox that she wishes to save. This money accumulates over time and is available to any member of the association who may need a loan during this period. She can borrow it from the safe as long as she repays it at an interest rate determined by the group. At the end of the eight-month cycle, each woman will receive the money she has put in the safe as well as a portion of the interest paid on the loans.


Since last July, my local counterpart and I have established several VSLAs in neighboring villages, and the VSLA in Avrankou is what I would consider the most successful among them. My counterpart, who is a director of a local NGO that supports women’s and children’s rights, has worked with these women in Avrankou for several years. He knew they would greatly benefit from a VSLA since most of the women either never went to school or left when they were very young, and they typically live hand-to-mouth. This becomes a problem whenever there are big household expenses, like at the beginning of the school year when school fees are due. With little or no financial support from their spouses, they are forced to make spending cuts to their already meager budgets to make ends meet. Their low income and lack of formal education makes them ineligible for loans from banks or microfinance institutions, and most wouldn’t be able to afford the high interest rates, anyway.


The VLSA mitigates these problems and gives the women of the group more financial freedom. First and foremost, it provides them an opportunity to save money. Every member must save each week, and the women considered everyone’s financial situation when choosing the minimum weekly savings amount. Most plan on using their savings to pay for their children’s school fees. Second, they can borrow from these savings and repay the loan at an affordable interest rate. So far, 10 women have taken loans of 10,000 CFA, which is about $16, and repaid each loan with 5% interest. They have all used their loans to invest in their business affairs. Lastly, this interest gets shared among everyone at the end of the savings cycle, so they are essentially earning money from their savings.


These 19 women not only have access to financial services they normally wouldn’t have, but they have also learned invaluable accounting and budgeting skills through the VSLA. The group is entirely self-run; my counterpart and I attend the weekly meetings solely for support and to answer questions. The women are in charge of tracking their savings, calculating loan interest, and enforcing the rules that they established. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, it is mandatory that members save every single week, so everyone has to create a weekly budget to ensure they can meet this requirement. The skills acquired through the VSLA will help them better manage their business affairs and personal finances, which will ultimately put more money in their pockets and allow them to live comfortably year-round.

Camp Gamia

By Shannon Johnson, TEFL volunteer

“Oui, nous pouvons” chanted fifty students from CEG Gamia. Yes, they can, and yes they did. Over the course of a three-day holiday, twenty-five boys and twenty-five girls participated in Camp Gamia, an initiative to spread gender equality, information, and fun to the student population. A boy and a girl from each class from 6th to 8th grade were selected to attend.

Months before the local camp, the five boys and five girls who participated in the national camps for boys and girls expressed interest in sharing what they had learned. They had a vision—a local camp that was not separated by gender. So, with the French teacher who had attended Camp Glow, we began planning. The national campers were designated tutors who would organize sessions, songs, and be leaders of smaller groups of students. Each tutor chose one or two sessions to present to their fellow students. The weeks preceding camp, we reviewed songs, the steps for a solid session, and public speaking tips. They were pumped. The administration was also supportive of the camp as a cultural activity, a way to develop student leadership and discuss important topics. As such, the local camp was fully-funded by the CEG’s budget, a rare occurrence with Peace Corps projects. The local camp proved to be much less expensive than a national camp, without the costs of travel, lodging, lunch and dinner.

Finally, the day of camp arrived. We waited anxiously to see if, after all the preparation, the students would actually show up. We set up the rooms, got water ready, and discussed the first few sessions at 7 am. Finally, at 8 am, students began to flood in. Out of the 60 nominated students, over 50 showed up to attend the camp. We were thrilled, knowing that students had to get special permission from their parents. Normally, schools breaks are an opportunity for these children to contribute to their families’ income by selling food in market or working in the fields. The students were split into teams of different colors that represented “les petites familles” with ranging age and genders, with tutors as the “grand frères” and “grand sœurs.” Throughout camp, teams would compete for points in competitions and behavior, with a special prize for the winning team.

We set the base framework of Camp Gamia by the first two sessions—self-confidence and gender and sex. For self-confidence, we encouraged all the students to speak comfortably and express their ideas, even if they may be wrong. Each student wrote a positive characteristic as well as a negative one on small sheets of paper. We formed a large circle outside and triumphantly ripped up the negative characteristic and threw it on the ground—BAM—representing that we have the capability to change our negative characteristics and that they don’t define us. The gender and sex session was the major basis for gender equality for the weekend. We defined the difference between gender and sex, the first a social construct and the latter biology. We established that sex doesn’t change over time or in different locations. The parts of our body remain the same.  Gender, though, varies and changes constantly. Ultimately, this broke down the argument that girls were incapable of doing well in school or working and boys were incapable of doing household work. The students also created typical daily calendars for boys and girls and compared them, realizing that girls have less time to study at home because of their chores. For the rest of camp, we established that boys and girls would split the work evenly. One boy and one girl would be in charge of fetching water, cleaning the room before sessions, serving food, and cleaning plates for the next three days.

The first day of camp continued to address gender. The subsequent sessions on the importance of girl’s education and violence against women further established that educated girls and women were more likely to be autonomous, without having to rely on other people for their basic needs. We discussed the four types of violence, agreed that all are present in Gamia, and that is it easier for educated women to leave situations of violence. The tutors were especially helpful in these sessions by performing skits and leading group discussions.

A variety of sessions filled the second day of camp, starting with a session on waste management. The students competed to find the most trash in bags. I had never seen kids so enthusiastic about collecting trash! The schools grounds were spotless after the 15-minute competition. The students learned what to do with different types of trash, and we set aside pure water sachets to use to plant Moringa trees later in the day. Other sessions for the second day included how to study, Moringa, and nutrition. Students took home two seeds of Moringa in a small, plastic nursery.

For the last day of camp, the main sessions were family planning, STDs, consent, malaria, and black is beautiful for the girls and alliance with girls for the boys. At the end of the last session, all of the students practiced putting on a condom, knew contraceptive methods, and how to avoid malaria and STDs. My counterpart, Delphine, talked to the girls about skin whitening and why they should be proud of their black, beautiful skin. They saw pictures and photos of successful, beautiful black women. The boys in the meantime discussed how to help the girls in their lives against unwanted pregnancies, violence, and abandoning school.

After four sessions a day, every day was filled with fun activities—competitions to see which team can build the strongest house made out of straws and tape, egg drop competition, a “color hunt” for hidden sticks, and finally, an obstacle course. Each day the students chose an elective, art or yoga, both led by tutors. We sang many songs, the most popular of which was boom chica boom.

By the end of camp, the students were motivated to share what they had learned with others in Gamia, their families, their friends, etc.  Since each class had one boy and one girl represented at camp, the pair planned what they wanted to share with their classmates. We finished the weekend with one final chant “Oui, nous pouvons!” cementing that the students are capable of addressing these important issues in Gamia, particularly gender equality. It seemed that the students were more open and at ease in this local camp than national camps because they were in a familiar place with many familiar faces. They were not afraid to point out what the village says about gender and family planning—the ideas that girls cannot do well in school and that women who use birth control will cheat on their husbands. By their openness, we were able to discuss the realities of village life frankly. By the end of camp, boys were offering to wash the dishes, sweep, and get water without being asked, a sign that change is indeed stirring in the “gros village” of Gamia.

Ouidah English Day

By Yea-Ree Chang, TEFL volunteer

Ouidah English Day is an English-immersion event primarily for English teachers of the South of Benin. This year, the participants learned about the difference between gender and sex, and had a frank discussion about gender-based violence and the educator’s role in confronting it in a school environment. To do so, they analyzed different scenarios and shared their own experiences as witnesses, victims, and perpetrators. In Benin, gender-related injustices ranging from petty discrimination practices to sexual harassment in an educational context are painfully common and having this discussion helped instill awareness and empathy in those who have a huge impact on the future generation of Benin.

Scholarship Girls Weekend

By Aviva Maslow, TEFL volunteer

Over February 16-19, forty-four girls from all over Benin gathered in Lokossa for the Scholarship Girls Weekend to learn about leadership skills and discuss important issues including sexual health and gender-based violence. This event was a part of the year-long Scholarship Girls Program, which provides high-achieving, low-income female students with academic scholarships and the opportunity to be mentored by a Peace Corps Volunteer throughout the school year. Participating volunteers work with a committee of school and community leaders to select one or two girls, whom the volunteer then works with and mentors during the year.  Since being selected in October, the girls have met regularly with their Peace Corps Volunteer in their respective villages, and all twenty-one of the participating volunteers brought their girls to Lokossa for the weekend training. One of the goals of this weekend was to create an environment that would help strengthen the relationships between the girls and their mentors. The weekend also aimed to equip the Scholarship Girls with the necessary information to make healthy and informed decisions, as well as leadership skills so the girls would feel confident returning to their communities as strong, positive leaders.

Throughout the weekend, the girls participated in sessions about self-confidence, puberty and the reproductive systems, gender equality, sexual harassment, malaria prevention, hygiene, sexual health and family planning, and girls’ education. The girls also had the chance to speak with a panel of five “Mama Modèles,” Beninese women who have found success and independence in their personal and professional lives. The women included Peace Corps’ Taibatou Osseni, Colleen Sayi, and Tatiana Houndji, as well as a military captain and a businesswoman, both from Lokossa. The women met with the girls in small groups, and took the time to answer the girls’ questions, tell their personal narratives as examples of how to overcome obstacles to achieve one’s goals. Towards the end of the weekend, all of the volunteers and girls participated in a session about the relationships between the girls and their mentors, and the girls made plans with their mentors on how to improve their relationships and work together when they returned to their communities. Another session focused on community service projects, since one of the requirements of the program is that the girls complete a community service project with the assistance of their volunteer in their local communities.  The girls and volunteers discussed what a community service project is, how to identify a community’s need, and how to effectively plan and implement a project to address this need. Each girl and her volunteer then discussed the problems they see in their own communities, and chose one of these issues to address through a community project, and completed a detailed action plan to use when they return to their communities.  We closed the weekend with with a certificate ceremony and, of course, a full-on dance party (complete with West African Top 40 songs) to celebrate everyone’s hard work and accomplishments!

Several volunteers remarked on the noticeable changes they saw in their girls throughout the weekend, as girls became more comfortable participating in group activities, speaking in front of a crowd, and opening up to their volunteer. For many of the girls, this weekend was their first time not only visiting Lokossa, but connecting with other girls from all over Benin and being a part of a tight-knit community of female students. It was clear by the end of the weekend that the girls felt proud of themselves, as they carried themselves with a new sense of self confidence and purpose, and it was inspiring and heartwarming as volunteers to witness this growth.  While all of these girls face numerous challenges on a daily basis at home, they still strive to complete their educations and overcome the obstacles they face as girls in Benin. Over the course of the weekend, the girls displayed their strength and courage, embracing their roles as the future leaders of Benin.

Seeds Of Hope Screening

By Julia Dejean, TEFL volunteer

October 11th is the International Day of the Girl. For this occasion, and to celebrate female students around the world, I held a viewing of the Peace Corps Benin produced documentaries “Seeds of Hope” at my school.

These documentaries share the story of exceptional Beninese girls that fought to receive an education despite their circumstances, in hopes that they inspire young girls to fight for their rights, as well as to promote the importance of sending girls to school amongst youth and adults.

Since the independence of Benin in 1960, much progress towards gender equality has been made. However, there are still families that refuse to educate their girls. A majority of these girls are exploited within households or offered in marriage at a young age to men that are considerably older. Some outstanding girls are convinced that it is through education that they can best invest themselves in the development of their country. They fight the sad realities, injustices, and sociological barriers that they are faced with in order to receive a quality education.

The “Seeds of Hope” films were an excellent gateway to an open discussion with the girls at my school about the many obstacles and challenges they face in their daily lives, and the different ways they can overcome these obstacles to achieve their dreams. We talked about ambition and several students shared their dreams and aspirations with the audience. Some wanted to become teachers, others nurses and others simply wanted to work hard in school and get good grades. The girls concluded on the importance of fighting for their education, working hard, and finding the strength and courage to pursue what they believe in. They came to this conclusion on their own.

At first, I was afraid not many students we’re going to come because it can sometimes be hard to organize a big event on such short notice, a week after the beginning of school. But in the end, 114 girls showed up. These 114 girls are my seeds of hope.

Ordering Menstrual Pads From The Local Tailor

By Henry Berghoff, EA volunteer

In Beninese culture, communication is very indirect, especially when concerning topics that are taboo. That is why it was so difficult to order menstrual pads for the 50 girls who will be attending Camp GLOW Savalou this vacation period. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Savalou is a camp for high-achieving girls in the Savalou region traditionally organized by Peace Corps volunteers, and will take place this year at the end of September, just before school starts again. The goal is to encourage girls to continue to succeed in school and to teach them life skills such as malaria prevention, feminine hygiene, and sexual health. As a gift for girls who attend the camp, each girl will receive two locally-made menstrual pads. To an American who can buy these items easily at any drug store, this may not seem like such an interesting gift. But to a girl who faces the prospect of either missing school or being shamed for dirtying her school uniform each month when her period comes, this is a game-changer. This removes one of the barriers girls must overcome to achieve the same education as boys in Benin. The only problem was: how can I order 100 menstrual pads in a community that traditionally does not talk about sex, menstruation, or other taboo topics out loud? Describing to my tailor what it was that I wanted him to make for me was one of the most difficult, hilarious, and rewarding conversations that I have had in over a year of service in Benin.

At first, I thought the conversation was going well. I had translated into French a description of how to sew the pads, including pictures. So when the tailor was asking questions about the dimensions, size, and construction of each pad, I thought he had understood what they were for, even though I had yet to use the word: menstruation. Finally, after discussing the price of each pad, I was about to go back to my house when I heard him describe to one of his employees that they would be making 100 bags for girls. No! They are not supposed to go over the girls’ shoulders and hold their pens and notebooks! It was time to start over again from the beginning… The second time I tried to describe what the pads were for, I mentioned the removable cloth that was for absorbing blood, and he got really confused. OK, at least now he understands that they are not just purses, even if he still does not know what they are. What blood? I tried to indirectly explain ‘what blood’, but eventually realized that I was out of options. I had to say it. There was no other way about it. So I said: well, to absorb the blood each month when the girls menstruate. There it was. I broke the taboo, but in the same moment, I finally reached him. He finally understood! Not only did he now know what I wanted him to make, but he understood why I wanted him to make them! He told me a story about visiting the local high school one time and seeing a girl stand up after class with a blood stain all down the back of her skirt. He said that the girl was so ashamed. Even though it is a totally natural phenomenon, in Beninese culture, menstruation is very taboo and girl was incredibly embarrassed. Yes! That’s exactly it! That’s exactly why it is important to give these students menstrual pads: girls in small villages can’t afford to buy disposable pads or tampons, and this way they can go to school every day of the month and compete with the boys. Wow! That conversation was not easy: everyone was uncomfortable, and at times I thought I would not succeed and I would have to find another tailor. But by the end, it was all worth it. Not only did the tailor agree to make all of the pads for the camp attendees, but he also volunteered to buy all of the necessary fabric as a donation. I was touched. What a sweet man!

This is my success story: I made it through an uncomfortable conversation, overcame cultural taboos, and taught a Beninese tailor how he can help break down barriers to girls’ education in Benin.

Exploring Gender Roles and Barriers to Education at Environment and Food Security Camp

By Emma Edwards, EA volunteer

The Environment and Food Security Camp in June 2016 was a week-long camp focused on developing students’ environmental consciousness and leadership capabilities. Held at CPN Les Papillons an eco-tourism site near Dassa, the camp included 27 students (15 girls and 12 boys) in 4eme and 5eme from rural areas of the North, South, and Collines regions of Benin. Students learned about topics relating to the environment, climate change, and food security. They also had the opportunity to practice new food preservation and gardening technologies.

Traditional gender roles manifest themselves in all areas of Beninese life, even in the garden and field. Even though farm work is generally a responsibility shared by men and women, the men are expected to carry out the more physically demanding tasks on the fields, while the women provide food for the workers, and clean the harvested products.

Because of this clear division between males and females in the environmental domain, the camp also incorporated discussions about gender and barriers to education for girls. Peace Corps Benin staff member Tatiana Houndji visited the camp to teach the students that Beninese girls have a much harder time succeeding in school than their male counterparts because they are also burdened with housework and other responsibilities. She impressed upon the students that it is important for the development of Benin for both girls and boys to succeed in school, and that boys can help girls succeed in school by stepping up and helping around the home.

It was clear that the students, even the boys, appreciated Tatiana’s message. When presenting statistics about the gap in academic success between girls and boys, she asked, “Is this fair?” A loud “NO!” resounded throughout the classroom. The themes discussed continued to develop throughout the week as the girls and boys were expected to share responsibilities of keeping the site clean. After breakfast, lunch, and dinner, boys and girls did dishes together. The students seemed enthusiastic to demonstrate that girls and boys can be equally strong in the garden as well as in the kitchen.

At the end of the week, students gave skits to present what they had learned. One group chose to present about gender roles. The main character, a boy, played a girl who had become pregnant and thus had been told by her parents that she needed to stop going to school due to shame. The professor, played by a girl, visited the parents and convinced them to allow their daughter to continue in school. While the skit drew many laughs, it was also very insightful and spoke to the necessary role that gender equality should play in the development of Benin.

Bridging the Gender Gap at Camp Atacora 2016

By Meaghan Eicher, TEFL volunteer

“On veut l’égalité!” On the steps of the Lycée de Jeunes Filles in Natitingou, 39 voices sang out in harmony, heads and arms swaying in rhythm to the music. “Rinaldo, look at the camera! Marius, smile! Faouziath… get back in line with the other kids!” The group of middle school kids looked at us expectantly, as we tried to quiet them for the millionth time. Julian, our cameraman, waited somewhat patiently for the kids to settle down so we could start the song over again. “Now kids, sing together! Sing louder! And 1, 2, 3, GO!” Take 5.

Welcome to Camp Atacora, Benin’s first co-ed week-long gender-equality summer camp. One afternoon last fall, a group of PCVs were sitting around the Natitingou workstation, talking about food. One of the volunteers, Matt, worked with a local orphanage based in Nati, and was planning to cook a small Thanksgiving meal and have a party for the kids at the orphanage. We started discussing, and thought it would be fun to plan an activity weekend with the kids, like so many of the youth events that volunteers organize. We could do small sensibilizations and art activities with them, like a mini weekend camp. A few of us had participated in camps last year, and were hoping to organize a camp in Nati for the 2016 summer. At first it was going to be a girls camp, then a boys camp, and then a new idea was thrown into the mix. Instead of doing just a weekend, and instead of just a girls or just a boys camp, why not make it a week long co-ed camp? Invite both boys and girls? It would be challenging, but a lot of fun too. Alas, Camp Atacora was born.

In early March, emails went out to the volunteers in the Nati region. “You will hold an essay competition at your CEGs, and will choose two boys and two girls from 6eme, 5eme, or 4eme classes. And you’ll invite a homologue, who will attend a camp training in June.” Documents were sent out, students were chosen, and travel was organized.  When camp week finally rolled around on July 10th, a total of 18 boys and 21 girls from 9 different villages around the Atacora region, 7 community partners, and 8 volunteers showed up at the Lycée de Jeunes Filles. It was GO time. The kids were divided into 5 different colored teams, with a volunteer and homologue in charge of each team.  Among the 39 kids, 4 of them were invited to be junior tutors and tutrices, a role-model and motivator if you will, for the younger students.  For sleeping arrangements, the girls slept in a dorm on the 2nd floor, while the boys slept on the 1st floor. There was 1 female homologue and 5 male homologues in attendance, and they stayed in the rooms with the kids to supervise.

The idea behind the camp was to bring together motivated kids from around the Atacora region to promote gender equality through sensibilizations, discussion, sports, and team activities. In the mornings, volunteers and homologues held sessions and presented topics on: hygiene, malaria prevention, nutrition, moringa, puberty and sexual health, sexual harassment and healthy relationships, strong women and leadership, self-esteem, gender equality, rights of women and children, goal setting, public speaking, sports, and community service projects. In the afternoons, we did STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities to stimulate creative thought processes and to enable team work.  These activities included building straw towers, building unsinkable boats out of tinfoil, doing an egg drop in which they had to create a stable contraption out of trash to keep the egg safe during a drop, and finally, they built volcanoes using pieces of cut up metal screen and paper mache. One of the homologues was a history and geography teacher, and he gave a lesson on volcanoes.  The objective of these activities was to show the kids that everyone has something to contribute. Everyone has different ideas and different strengths, and when you combine those and work together, you can achieve your goals, whether you are male or female. And to have a little friendly fun and competition while doing it.

One of the days, we planned a field trip into town. Since many of the kids are from small villages, for some of them it was their first time in the big city. There is a local library in town, and we organized a career panel for the kids. We invited 6 professionals to attend: a teacher, two librarians, a Peace Corps staff member, a chef, and an NGO worker. They shared stories about their lives, and talked about career possibilities, work-life balance, being a woman in a professional work place, and the importance of finishing school. Afterwards, the librarians talked to the kids about study skills and education, and the kids had the opportunity to explore the library. After the library, we walked down the road to the museum, and ate lunch outside. A local artisan sets up shop at the museum, and we organized a painting session with him. After a tour of the museum, in which the kids learned more about their cultural history, and saw ancient artifacts found throughout the region, they participated in their first painting class. They used their fingers and small knives to spread paints on cloth canvases, in the shape of Tata Sambas. We spent the evening eating dinner and sipping sodas under the trees at the museum. There was a stage in the middle of the outdoor area, and a DJ at the nearby buvette started playing some tunes. It didn’t take long for the kids to jump up on the stage and show off their dances moves. We shut the party down at 9, when the taxi showed up to shuttle the kids back to the school.

The week ended with a relay race and a talent show dance party. The kids competed in a water sachet toss, human knots, a balance walk with cups, pin the tail on the donkey, Frisbee toss, 3-legged race, free throws, wheel barrow, and hopscotch activities. The final win came if the team could properly sing the camp song.  Throughout the week, the kids had been practicing a song to the tune of the Spice Girls’ “What I Really Really Want,” gender equality style. The Global Goals was conducting a social challenge, in conjunction with the Sustainable Development Goals. Genesis wrote gender equality lyrics in French to the tune of the song, and the kids practiced throughout the week.  We took a few videos of them singing the song, and Roxana put the clips together and made a music video. Overall, it was a fun and successful week. There are always hiccups with events, and small setbacks that you have to work around. But the kids had a great time, and it was an unforgettable week. Hopefully Camp Atacora will become a tradition, and will continue to motivate and encourage the youth of the Atacora region for years to come.

8th National Spelling Bee

By Roxana Gonzalez, CED volunteer

The 8th National Spelling Bee was held from July 1st thru 3rd in Natitingou. 31 middle school boys and girls traveled from 16 villages throughout Benin to compete in this year’s event. The weekend was sponsored by a Peace Corps Small Projects Assistance grant with a focus on malaria. It thus kicked off with a malaria sensibilization discussing the cause, symptoms, treatment and prevention of the disease. The importance of both prevention and seeking prompt care was emphasized with a fun game designed by Laura Prelle. Through situational cards distributed during the game, participants saw that their health practices affect all aspects of their lives. The cards emphasized how good health practices lead to more successful home, work, and school lives.

Day 2 was busy, starting with crosswords and hangman to help the kids study their spelling with each other. Studying was followed by another malaria game, designed by Andrea Nasser and Karsten Rabe, which allowed students to practice their spelling while learning the importance of net usage. After the games were over, everyone prepared for the competition.

Boys were up first. Each student was given an opportunity to spell before beginning with round one. Round after round, the boys proved that studying pays off. In the end, Ouidah took home third place, Bassila ended in second, and Gbanlin won it all for the boys. It was in no way an easy defeat with the boys correctly spelling more than half of our difficult words. Next up were the girls, where the match was just as competitive. After the practice sequence, the girls impressed us as they successfully completed their rounds. Third place went to Gbanlin, Bassila again took second, and Comé proved to have the best female speller of Benin.

After lunch, we decided to keep the spelling going. First was a special round for both boys and girls, excluding our six previous winners, to allow more students to emerge victorious. The Kouandé girl and Comé boy made it to the end.  After that, the six previous winners competed against six of our volunteers. I’m happy to report that it was the students who beat out the competition. In the volunteers’ defense, we picked them some of the most obscure words from the dictionary. The weekend ended with a trip to the museum and a movie to relax after a long day. The students departed Sunday morning, prizes in hand and smiles on faces. Looking forward to hearing great things from next year’s Bee!

Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

By Sierra Petrosky, RCH volunteer

Upon arrival at my site in Benin, my new closemate, someone in the year above me, told me all about how Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) had been her favorite activity in Benin. She told me about some of the activities they did and showed me pictures of everyone in their matching t-shirts, and I responded, “That’s really cute!”

Now, I want to slap my former self. It isn’t cute. It’s powerful.

The girls of Camp GLOW come from different villages and towns throughout Benin, and get to spend what would have typically been a full week of farm work doing these things instead:

  • Learning how to prevent malaria, HIV, and diarrheal diseases
  • Learning about family planning methods
  • Playing sports
  • Practicing computer skills
  • Practicing leadership skills
  • Learning about human rights
  • Learning about their bodies
  • Working in teams
  • Thinking critically

You can see the difference GLOW camp makes in these females through observing them throughout the week. You see them come out of their shells, demonstrate new knowledge and skills, and, sure, you see improvements through the pre/post tests.  More important than that, however, is what you observe afterwards back at your site. Between the former volunteer and I, my village now has 3 groups of GLOW alumni, and let me tell you: GLOW girls rock their camp khaki like it’s a ball gown. They are the first to raise their hands when a professor asks a question. They are the presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries of student organizations. They are the captains and co-captains of female sports teams. They’re the ones who can tell people exactly where to go buy condoms in village, and exactly why they should.  They’re the ones you see stitching up their mosquito nets outside and bringing their siblings to the health center right when they fall sick. They’re intelligent, courageous, and confident. And I know that they were all of these things long before they went to camp, but that week of female empowerment brings these traits out in a way you’d have to see to believe.

They really are les filles qui guident notre monde.