The following blog was written last week by Annie Weber. Annie is here with us at Educate for Change this summer as a member of the Girl’s Health and Leadership Program Team. She just graduated from Gettysburg College with a BA in Sociology with a minor in Middle Eastern Islamic Studies. Annie was awarded the SIT Alice Rowan-Swanson Fellowship and a Projects for Peace grant in order to carry out our programs this summer. Thanks so much, Annie! We love you.
Following weeks of pre-planning and two days of training our wonderful small group leaders, our Educate for Change team has completed the first Girl’s Health and Leadership camp. The S.P.E.A.K Up initiative stands for helping girls to learn about Self-esteem, Protection, Empowerment, Action, and Knowledge about their bodies, rights, and how to stand up for themselves. We are focusing on four schools, each about an hour from Gulu, Uganda in order to target the most vulnerable girls.
To give a little background for those who are not familiar, northern Uganda was beleaguered by political unrest and rebellion for over two decades until 2006, leaving this region still underdeveloped. Health-related issues such as menstruation and sexual/reproductive health still remain untaught within schools leaving girls knowing very little about their own bodies and rights. We have created this partnership in order to address these issues and to help girls reach their full potential in both school and life.
After 16 hours of interviews and 32 candidates, 12 brilliant young Ugandan ladies were chosen to be a part of our leadership team. Our staff and other speakers helped to train these ladies over two days in self-knowledge (menstrual health & sexual health), self-esteem (communication skills), self-defense, and tons of ice-breakers/games to lead their small groups at the camps.
Upon arriving at the first camp in Minakulu, we were so excited to get things going. We started with checking in the girls who had registered. When the girls could barely look me in the face and tell me their names I was nervous about how the camps would go. Would we be able to get these girls to open up? If they can’t even tell someone their name, how will they be able to stand up for themselves when something crucial happens?
After the second day of playing games, actively participating in class sessions and small group sessions the girls started to become closer to each other as well as their small group leaders. The closing ceremony is when I really understood the magnitude of our program. As Marion, one of our team leaders led the closing ceremony the girls were following along with her yelling “Speak up! Speak Up! Speak Up!” and our theme song for the camps, “I’m strong, I’m beautiful, I’m powerful…I’m perfect just the way I am!” I began tearing up alongside other EFC staff members when the girls had practiced and performed a skit for us to let us know how much they have learned over the past 3 days. I cannot thank Educate for Change, SIT, the Rowan-Swanson family, and the Kathryn Davis Projects for Peace organization enough for allowing me to help in facilitating these camps. We are really providing these girls with critical information to help keep them safe and to help them make informed decisions in their lives.