In the week before coming into Vila, Gaea and I went to Ambae to learn how to run a youth leadership camp. These camps are a Peace Corps wide thing but organized and run by different committees in each country. For the last four years the Gender and Development (GAD) committee in Vanuatu has run a Training of Trainers (ToT) for the new volunteers to get some experience running these camps. The participants in the ToT are individuals that the PCVs have identified as leaders in their communities. When they go back to the island, they are expected to work with their PCV to run a camp. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and BILD stands for Boys in Leadership Development. They are often run in tandem with a few joint sessions and meals together but if resources are short, we can run them one at a time. The idea is to get youth between 12 and 18 to participate but we’ve heard of camps that included 9-year-olds and 25-year-olds. The length can vary from a two or three day weekend camp to a week-long one. We are hoping to do a week long GLOW/BILD combo camp at Melsisi and another one at Ranwadi.
The ToT was supposed to be a week long. We had a lot of sessions to do with them plus the added sessions on how to run a camp. Every day started with 6am sport for an hour. Then we’d bathe and go eat breakfast. The “academic” sessions started at 8:30am, at least theoretically. The first day of sessions start with talking about qualities of a leader and moved to good communication, including public speaking skills. We finish the academic sessions with another round of sport, usually things like capture the flag or Ultimate Frisbee. After dinner, is a more relaxed and social activity. The first day we played “props,” the game where you have a pile of objects and do improv skits to use them as another object while your teammates guess the object. The next day focuses on decision making and goal setting in the morning and trust and teamwork in the afternoon. The evening activity was watching a Wan Smol Bag (One Small Bag) movie and making friendship bracelets. (Wan Smol Bag does TV shows and movies about sexual and reproductive health. They tend to be really entertaining and educational.) The third day, we went down to the beach and talked about adolescent and reproductive health while roasting lunch then came back to the classroom to talk about HIV/AIDS and other STIs. That evening, we painted the camp banner and had a dance party in the dining hall. By dance party, I mean a few PCVs danced while everyone else watched or laughed. The fourth day we spent the morning on relationships before moving into the mini-camp planning. The participants planned the camp with almost no input from the PCVs. In the evening we relaxed around a fire and sang songs. The next day, the participants ran a mini camp for younger kids in the community. It was amazing to see how well they ran their camp and made us all very proud. The Camp wrapped up with awards and a talent show. We even got a few of the participants to join a martial arts demo as I had been running classes for morning exercises.
Leadership is really not something that gets talked about in this country. There is such a culture of shame around standing out in any way that it’s hard to be a leader here. From what we’ve seen, most of the leaders here have been either chosen for a position or “made the mistake” of putting a toe into a power vacuum and then get treated as a leader. Nobody talks about public speaking or non-verbal communication. Even for the well-educated teachers in the group, a lot of this seemed to be new concepts. Even less talked about is anything to do with sex and reproduction. I was very pleased to see how interested all the guys were, even when I went through how the menstrual cycle works. We had so many good questions that we dropped one of the planned activities to answer more. I got the impression that they were really excited to have a chance to ask about these things in a safe environment.
We are both very excited to go back and run our own camps. Hopefully we will also have opportunities to join other volunteers when they run their camps. We are both fully convinced that the week-long camp is the way to go. There are just too many topics that need to be covered to actually work in a weekend. We also want to create a safe space for questions, which didn’t start to happen until day three at this camp. After that they really opened up and were willing to ask about some touchy subjects. We had to use a question box to get some of them anonymously but that they were willing to ask at all is great. Watching our participants come out of their shells and gain confidence was awesome to watch. This definitely the kind of work we are both passionate about.