That first night of camp, once all the kids had arrived and settled in and headed to the cafeteria for dinner, the room was so awkwardly quiet you could have heard a mosquito buzz out the door. There wasn’t even the comforting chink of forks against plates, since the plates were plastic and the forks were nonexistent (we ate in the style the high school in town normally does their meals, which is with our hands).
But on Friday night, our last supper together, we could hardly hear ourselves think over the laughter and shouts and even singing – yup, the singing of our camp songs led by the kids themselves! The transformation over the five days of camp was so incredibly fun to see and be a part of. The first day of camp we were practically pulling teeth to get them to answer the simplest yes or no question in French. And by even the second to last night I couldn’t get to sleep over the girls’ giggles and chatter, as I laid smiling in my bug hut outside the classroom door, listening to them singing camp songs from under their mosquito nets in the dark.
I truly couldn’t have asked for a better first camp experience. We talked about malaria and hygiene and good nutrition, and about how our bodies change and grow and develop during puberty. We talked about what sex is, and how a woman actually gets pregnant, and how to be prepared to make decisions about sex that are safe and comfortable for one’s own body and mind. We talked about the role gender plays in society, and how gender roles can be limiting and how they can be changed. And we talked about how to be leaders, how to communicate assertively, and how to take active roles in creating our future. To sum it all up, we tackled a handful of critical subjects for adolescents that these kids might otherwise never learn or talk about. And while much of it was challenging – with language barriers and cultural taboos and gender divisions and age differences – I think all of us PCVs believe that seeds of curiosity and critical thinking and respect for oneself and others were planted, and that it was the beginning of something really cool for these twenty-eight lucky kids.
Each morning of camp, as the sun rose in the refreshing early morning air, we gathered the kids outside the classrooms for a 6:30 am wake-up activity. The first morning each camper received a rope – a plain, simple white rope – to do some jump roping and to introduce the idea of goal setting. And from that moment on, they were inseparable. Not the kids from each other, or even from us – the kids were inseparable from their ropes! You would have thought we’d given each of them an iPhone, or whatever is the latest rage among pre-teens in the U.S. these days, and not a fraying piece of white twine. They went everywhere with these ropes – to class, to dinner, even to the showers! Some walked around with them hung over their shoulders, ready to be swung and jumped over at a moment’s notice. We had to nearly pry them out of their hands to do other activities, and whenever we had a temporary pause in class, away they’d go jumping. Here are a few of the boys and their new best friends:
One of my favorite sessions of camp was our “Panel of Professionals,” where we invited six community members who have succeeded in life in one way or another to come and talk to our young people about planning and creating their future. We heard from a nurse, a teacher, and a woman who owned her own business (among others), and they all had incredible things to say that kids here, especially village kids, rarely hear from their role models. The woman who had started her own business shared her own experience of dropping out of school, and how she hopes the kids won’t make the same mistake that she did because education is so important. Another woman shared how she found other ways to continue learning and growing when her father refused to continue to pay for her schooling after the 6th grade. And yet another shared how, while she was a student, she told her boyfriend she didn’t want to take the risk of getting pregnant because she wanted to study hard and become a nurse. And that’s exactly what she did! I couldn’t have asked for more exceptional role models for our kids. Especially the kids from my own village, whose classmate, a 14-year-old from our village, gave birth to an underweight baby during the year-end final exams, and whose baby then died the next day. Teen (and even preteen) pregnancy happens all too often here, and all too often without the consent or understanding of the teen herself. So at camp, we tried to help both girls and boys understand not only how one gets pregnant, but also how one can make healthy decisions for one’s own self regarding sex.
Just to give you a little more background info, all of the topics we taught these kids, and that we teach to our villages in general, are subjects and messages that the Burkina Faso government and Peace Corps have together decided are its priorities. Many of these topics, even those often considered taboo, are things that are supposed to be taught at some point in the Burkinabé school system itself. But because of enormous class sizes, terrible drop-out rates (especially for girls), low French comprehension levels and many other factors, there are gaps in these kids’ education. And that’s where we try to make up the difference. Things like sex and pregnancy and puberty especially are things that traditionally are not appropriate for a mother here to talk to her daughter about, and so if she doesn’t get it in school, she may never get appropriate, accurate information – much less advice or guidance.
Unfortunately I’m running out of time, and there’s no way I can share all the precious and/or hilarious moments with you through just one post. But I’ve got a bunch of photos and even a video uploaded to Facebook, so be sure to check them out!
Click here for the photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10101496497244407.3144410.8647808&type=1
And here for the video clip on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10101496499030827
If you don’t have Facebook, you can also copy and paste this into a new tab to view the video on my flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57089595@N02/7628794026/
Thanks again for helping our 28 kids become les leaders de l’avenir! It truly was a week that neither we nor the kids will ever forget.