One of the projects that I worked on this Summer, and my main reason for my travels to Karakol and Issyk Kul, was helping to lead a summer camp for girls from Issyk Kul. The camp, called Girls Leading Our World (or GLOW), is common throughout the Peace Corps network, offering a chance for young women to come together and talk about what it means to be a leader in their communities.
At the camp, we talked about things like critical thinking, peer pressure, leadership, body image, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and healthy relationships. The discussions and questions that stemmed from our sessions really through into focus the discrepancies between an education system built around knowing the answer versus understanding the answer. These girls are passionate and eager to learn, but are limited by an education system that doesn’t always invest in its students or acknowledge their potential. In discussions about reproductive health and safe sex in particular – where there is no space to ask questions in their communities without fear of “уят” (ooyat), or shame. With all of the failings of abstinence-only education, imagine not even being able to talk about sex, menstruation, or anatomy without being shamed (even by mothers, family members, or educators). Their participation in this camp aims to empower them with knowledge and confidence to be leaders in their own communities.
The camp was run by a fellow PCV, Aly (above on the left), and worked with amazing translators like Rahat (pictured above on the right.) The camp sessions were trilingual – in English, Russian, and Kyrgyz.
The camp also featured a program called Dance4Life, a program that aims to empower young people with knowledge about HIV and AIDS through music, dance, and a sense of international community. This program is aimed to be fun and connective, but I have doubts about its efficacy in actually achieving its goals – yes, our girls danced and had fun. They broke down barriers and talked about a taboo subject. But will it affect their behavior? Will they use it as a tool in their communities to talk about the increasing risk of HIV for Kyrgyz youth? Am I over thinking it?
In all the camp was an interesting look into Kyrgyz youth, who – unfortunately – I have very little interaction with at my work site. These girls are tasked with taking home the information they have learned to start Girl’s Clubs in their communities and working on a community-driven action. Talking about these issues are a first step, and making these girls believe in their own power is the second. The steps beyond that are up to them.