My absolute, very last, final, in-person project on Tongariki was to run a GLOW with the girls at Coconak School aged 12-17. Every day after school for three weeks, I had an hour session, with three half-day sessions thrown in. It was an absolute blast.
I did most of the leadership and life skills sections by myself. The program starts with talking about leadership styles, why you should love yourself, and tells girls that they need to think about their goals and dreams. We did a lot of talking about future goals -- what the girls want to do and where they want to go. Some of them want to be teachers or nurses and some of them want to live on the island and work in the garden. The point wasn't to tell them that they all need to go to USP (the university), but to get them thinking. How many children is it good to have? How much money do you need to have to live the kind of lifestyle you want? (Nowadays, pretty nice living on Atong is when you have a DVD player, a solar set up, a phone, enough nice clothes, and the money to buy things like biscuits and tin without worrying.) The point was to get them to think about how they can take control of their life. If they want to run a small store out of their house, they need to think about how to do it.
We also talked a lot about managing projects, and how women leaders have a really important role in the community. In America, 20% of senators and 18% of representatives are women. Women have a role as mayors, county commissioners, school board leaders ... In Vanuatu, there are 0 women MPs. I have heard of a woman in Tafea province who had some elected position in the province -- but that's it. Women leaders are more common in the church, and there are some women who play an active role in committees. But just because there's a place that is reserved for a woman doesn't mean that the woman who takes the position acts as a leader. The point was -- you have a right to be heard, to have a responsibility (if you can) to stand up for other people who are too afraid to speak up.
This was a program for young women, so we talked a lot about healthy relationships, too. I did these sessions with the help of my counterpart, the wonderful Elsie Daniel. We were talking to the girls about things like -- when is it good to have a boyfriend? How should you treat your boyfriend? How should he treat you? What is a normal fight, and what is abuse? The highlight was a Jenga game in which you had to add or remove blocks, depending on situations written on sheets of paper. The situations were like : Mom wants to use a condom, and Dad agrees, because they have enough children already. Dad hits Mom. Mom sends the kids to buy matches, but the kids just play and never go to the store. Mom cheats on Dad. Mom is sweeping the house, so Dad washes the clothes. Mom and Dad go to the garden, so Big Sister watches the little kids. Even the other teachers were looking at the situations after the students went home (definitely helped that this was on a day with a severe weather warning!)
The last section was adolescent reproductive health. In America, we teach youth about puberty and sex early, and build up it every year in health class. Vanuatu's curriculum has puberty in class 6 and sex ed in class 10. Many teachers are embarrassed, because this is a very conservative culture, and they'll skip it. Also, a lot of kids don't make it to class 6, forget class 10.
Luckily, Elsie was there, and she's the headmistress, so it was all a go. I am really proud of this week. Out of the 25 girls who took part in the sex ed section, only 3 said that their mothers or aunties had told them in depth about what sex is and how you get or avoid pregnancy.
We started by talking about puberty. Step 2 was doing body ID cards, in which they had to put names to pictures of male and female reproductive systems. Then we did card sets that showed sperm production, the menstrual cycle, and how sex and fertilization work. (The cards are the best things in the entire world.) The last day was talking about family planning -- what it is, how it works, and who should use it. We told the girls that it's not just about limiting the size of your family but about spacing children and timing them as well, making sure that they understood that family planning is good not only for young couples who don't want children yet, but also for new mothers with smolsmol babies and for women who already have four or five children and feel that enough is enough. Many women in Vanuatu have five or six children, which is fine, but our point was to go back to the beginning, about what they want their lives to be like. It's great to have ten children if your husband is a big man and has lots of money and can build you a big house and hire a house girl. It's pretty crummy to have ten children if you all sleep in a kitchen and you can't pay school fees for any of them. As a young woman, you have to think about these sorts of things. We can have babies from our mid-teens to our mid-to-late-40s, in some cases, so it's not cool for embarrassment to block girls from getting the knowledge that they need.
The day before I left, last day!!
I feel really proud of my GLOW. It was a labor of love and I hope that the girls can use some of that information in the future. 100%, I want to do another one or two on Malekula this next year. It's just such a great program -- the Gender and Development committee run by PCVs here is absolutely stellar. The stuff they produce is so perfect for Vanuatu, and it makes it so easy for volunteers. I never would have thought I could teach a fun and interactive session -- about the sperm cycle. On my own, it would have been some boring lecture that would have been about as uninformative as possible. A round of applause to GAD!