for thirty girls here in Kerou. The goal of the camp is to encourage young
girls to have and then achieve their goals, as well as teaching them about
sexual health and reproduction.
Thankfully I was lucky enough to partner with one of my good
friends Kimberly Sanders from California, who helped out with a lot of the
logistical planning and report writing. I prefer working on teams and she was a
great partner. I also had three other volunteers help out and be camp
Kamp Kerou consisted of 30 girls from CEF Kerou chosen by
their grades, class particpation, and overall personality. Nothing is worse
than having a camp where no one is participating in the activities, songs, and
games. I also employed the assistance of five female professors from my school.
These women were fantastic. They were just as engaged as the girls. They
encouraged the girls to raise their hands, gave anecdotes about things they’d
experienced as girls when they were the campers’ ages. Their experiences had a
profound effect on the girls. The counselors were able to show them that they
too had been in the exact same situation and had found a way to succeed. (Being
a school teacher in Benin is a very good job, especially for a woman.) I
wouldn’t have traded their presence for a million cfa.
The week was filled with laughing and learning and playing
and participating. I truly believe that we helped to open the eyes of at least
a few girls who had never before thought they could become something other than
mothers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) This could very well have
been the first time that someone, especially someone with stature such as
teachers, has ever told these young girls that they could dream about a future.
In Benin one isn’t really encouraged to dream to live above one’s family. If
you’re from a family of farmers, you’re to be a farmer, etc. They feel that if
you want to be something else it’s because you’re ashamed of where you come
from, or you think you’re better than your upbringing. (An idea that is not too
different from those that some have in the U.S.) We had a career panel with a
midwife, teachers, the school accountant, Peace Corps volunteers, and a local
business woman. The girls asked great questions from “How did you put off being
a mother to become a professor?,” to “What did your family say about you
leaving your family to go off and learn?,” to
“How did you pay for your education?” You could really see the
excitement and genuine inquiry in their eyes. Another one of those moments
where you know you’re making a difference.
At the end of camp the girls put on skits to show what
they’d learnt throughout the week. There were presentations on “Sex for Grades”
(which is an unfotunate reality of the Beninese education system), “Proper
Menstrual Hygiene,” and “How to Keep Boys at Bay.” All of the girls had a great
time with this activity. It was their chance to get up and give the
presentations instead of watching them. Most made us laugh, some made us tear
up as girls shared their experiences of losing their virginities as a frightfully
young age, and most made us proud. You’re never really sure if your audience as
received your intended message, let alone understood it. After seeing their
skits, it was clear that both had been achieved.
At the very end we had a little dance with the girls and the
counselors. We all got together and showed off our moves. The girls showed us
how to dance properly Beninese style, doing the yam pile dance, and other
various village dance moves, and we showed them how to fist pump!
It is routinely said that camps are the highlight of a
volunteers service. The curriculm is usually your own. You’re not being
critiqued by Beninese inspectors. You’re teaching material you know in your
heart to be critically important to the development of your students, and is
not covered in the classroom, and more often than not, never broached in the
home. These camps are an opportunity for us to have direct contact with the
girls on a level that potentially could have the most profound effects. Kamp
Kerou was surely one of the brightest and most rewarding experiences of my
Peace Corps service.
I want to give the biggest THANKS I can give to all of those
who donated to Kamp Kerou. Without your generous support this camp never could
have happened. Rest assured knowing that you not only helped us teach girls how
to achieve their dreams, but also plan for their futures, and you all paid for
another year of schooling that was surely not assured. You’re all heroes to
these girls. Thank you so much.