Sunday, October 9, 2011

GLOW: Girls Leading Our World - in the Kherson oblast

Girls are a powerful force to be reckoned with when given the chance. And as I saw this weekend, Ukraine has some pretty amazing young women.

My friend Stephanie Somerman, a Peace Corps Community Development volunteer who lives near me, decided that the GLOW summer camp needed to be relived this fall. She, along with her Ukrainian counterpart (Alona) and a couple of her co-workers (Olya and Julia) - and several other volunteers from her town - organized and implemented a very memorable, successful weekend. Stephanie works with a social services center in Chaplinka, a small town in the oblast, which is where the camp was held. The director of the school at which we had the camp was such a gracious host and accommodated all of us with a lot of enthusiasm and positivity.

Meet Stephanie:

Nine of us Peace Corps volunteers traveled from other cities/towns/villages in the oblast (state) to Chaplinka, where the camp was held. Along with several of the volunteers came students in 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-grade. A Ukrainian volunteer, my good friend Olya, came along too, and she, along with Alona and Julia, were great assets - they translated a lot of what we couldn't, and set an example to the girls that the ideals we were delivering to the 17 teenagers were not necessarily "American" or "western" - they're concepts/issues that are very important all over the world. And every single girl in the world deserves to be given, at the bare minimum, the information that they got over the weekend. And of course, as at any camp, we gained many new perspectives from the girls in return.

Camp began on Friday evening - everyone arrived, ate dinner, and were ready for the introductions/rules/expectations and for How to Glow Lesson 1: Leadership.

We found out the girls' expectations/hopes about the following 2 days. They all wanted to practice their English, learn new information, take lots of photos, and make new friends. We also established rules - everyone signed the contract/poster. :)

Lesson 1: Leadership came next. I led that lesson and it went well; it was great to communicate with so many teenage girls about the importance of feeling capable of being a leader, whether it be on a small or large scale. The word "leader" isn't a big, scary word - it's a word that can be applied to every person on some level. That lesson included some great, creative skits!

The Quest followed - in teams, everyone had to go to a station, do a task, and get a puzzle piece. The team that completed their puzzle first won! Tasks included filling a cup with water using a spoon...

...and running a 3-legged race...

...and singing the Ukrainian national anthem.

Then came reflections (or as we called it at Hometown Europe, "roses and thorns") and sleep.

Olya's first time in a sleeping bag:


Saturday, Maggie started the day with yoga. She didn't go incredibly easy on the girls; they got a pretty decent work-out.

After breakfast, Stephanie's counterpart Alona gave a lesson on project design and management. The girls gained information on how to successfully plan and execute a project. The lesson was all in Ukrainian so unfortunately I was only able to get about 20% of it (I learned Russian, and my whole town operates almost purely in Russian - it's hard to believe that a town 45 minutes away has so much Ukrainian speaking!) However, I clearly saw that the girls got a lot out of the lesson and had some great ideas!

Stephanie and Megan Trout co-presented on professionalism; any kind of project or future educational or career endeavor requires acting professional on some level. Steph and Megan had an entertaining skit on a good versus bad interview. Once I get ahold of a picture from that, I'm definitely adding it on here - it was quality stuff!

Then it was time for tie-dye! It was a first for everyone. It was pretty fun throwing in an element from a typical American camp. Some girls brought white T-shirts; those who didn't made bandannas. Some people made both!

Kaity and Shannon Our new friendJulia and Olya, 2 of the Ukrainian volunteers

Lunch was even better than expected - one of the many things that Alona did, with the help of two other women, was make sure that 40 people were fed at each meal. I'll never get tired of real borscht made by real Ukrainians.

How to GLOW lesson 2 was on body image and was led by Kaity and me. It is always a powerful topic to talk about with teenage girls, and a very important one. Among several activities, we included this video (the Dove Evolution commercial) and had a positive discussion afterward. Kaity concluded the lesson well: stop comparing yourself with someone who isn't real.

Stephanie's friend who is a psychologist (named Olya) gave a great lesson next on sexual health and dating and was able to answer a lot of anonymous, written questions that people weren't necessarily comfortable asking out loud or at home. Of course, everything in that room at that time was promised to stay confidential, so I'm going to just leave it at that. But I will say that Olya did a great job and was really approachable.

Team-building games
included People to People and Bibbity Bobbity Boo.

By the way, the mayor dropped by!

And then!
The Kossaks came. A team of Kossaks (yes, real ones, naturally! :)) arrived and served the entire group a big pot of duck soup. It was awesome; they were so much fun and really friendly. It was really amazing of them to put so much effort into visiting the camp and providing dinner. I had two helpings of the stuff!

We finished the evening off with a film about human trafficking ("Lilya 4-Ever") - it's about a girl from Estonia who is promised a better life by her new romantic partner, Andrey. He woos her and invites her to Sweden, where they'll have a better life. However, he is conspiring the whole time to sell her as a sex slave once they get there. It's a very powerful film (even if you don't understand any Russian at all it's well worth watching) and it brought on a lot of interesting discussion. It was a segway into the next day's topic of human trafficking. And on a happier note, the girls also got to make friendship bracelets ("fenechky") during the movie!Anne, Maggie, and Beth explaining the bracelets
Before we knew it, the final day crept up, and I overheard several girls say to each other that they weren't ready to leave. In just 2 short days, they'd already become friends - as one girl put it, "I came here alone but now I feel like I knew these girls for one hundred years." :) Other girls said, several times, that they had "many emotions" about the camp.

After Maggie's yoga and our breakfast (again cooked by the lovely Alona, who showed up bright and early to make sure everyone was fed), it was time for the lesson/discussion on human trafficking. In Ukraine, it is an incredibly huge problem with far too many victims, and it's not talked about nearly enough. There's a hotline (the number is 5-2-7) and can be called from any major cell phone provider for free; anyone can call it to report an incident related to trafficking, or inquire about the safety/legitimacy of a company/organization. In an earlier blog post of mine (from last spring), there's more detailed information about the 527 campaign.

Julia taught the lesson on counter-trafficking - the best tool for fighting this issue is simply spreading information to as many people as possible. A lot of people, specifically in villages and small towns, don't have the opportunity to hear much (if at all) about human trafficking, and aren't aware that it's a problem in Ukraine, or even in their own hometown.

Julia led this lesson and sparked a long discussion with quite a few questions - it all took over an hour, and everyone was interested and attentive the whole time. It was Julia's first lesson on CT and she did a great job.

The 3rd How to GLOW lesson was on self-esteem, led by Megan and Shannon. In included an activity of writing anonymous compliments on sheets of paper taped to everyone's backs, writing positive words about themselves, and listing different things that make them feel good about themselves. It was a great lesson and I'll bring the lesson to my school in my town (I used it today in one of my classes!) Self-respect is a vital topic for teenagers.

After lunch we had our closing ceremony and watched a slide show that Stephanie gave up a lot of sleep to put together and burn to discs for everyone. Every participant received a certificate... and Oreos as a bonus. :) How very American.

To read more about GLOW camps, and the camp for boys (TOBE), check out