Monday, July 28, 2008

Girls Leadership Conference

I’m back down in Kedougou this week for a girls leadership conference that a few volunteers have organized. They invited 26 of the top female students from the area. They asked Awa Traore, one of the women I interviewed for my film, to run the conference. First off, Awa Traore is on e of the most passionate and dynamic speakers I’ve ever met. She works at the Peace Corps Training Center in Thies as the Cross-Culture trainer and as the SeneGAD (Gender and Development) advisor. For the past few years she has helped PCVs facilitate girls meetings and conferences focusing on some relatively taboo subjects like Aids, underage marriages, and rape as well as the softer topics like education, self-confidence, and independence. A few of us met with Awa last night to talk about the plan for the conference and it was classic Awa. She had a long list of issues she wanted to discuss with the girls and she noted our suggestions as well but told us that the sessions would inevitably be shaped by the dynamic of the group and the girls’ level of interest in the topics. She told us about her experience doing this in Tambacounda last year with a group of 30 girls where one of the girls told the group she had been raped. In Senegal, this speaking out about sexual abuses is extremely uncommon and is often considered culturally inappropriate. But these are the types of barriers that need to be brought up and discussed with the youth; with the future of this country. These girls are smart and motivated and capable but the system they are working in is flawed. Girls are supposed to go to school through sixth grade while learning how to cook and clean and then they should get married, drop out of school, and start having children. They should not stand up to men. They should be obedient and submissive. Awa has come to show these girls there’s another way. They can make decisions about their own lives; whether they want to get married at an early age or not, whether they want to quit school or not. And so this morning at 9am, the doors of the Peace Corps CTC (Community Training Center) in Kedougou opened up to the 26 girls invited to the conference. It’s incredible to see the change the girls go through from just one day of talking. In the morning, they were all so scared and timid but within a few hours of discussion and activities with Awa and the PCVs, they were pumped up and excited. You could literally see the empowerment happening. This girls leadership conference was an experience unlike any other I’ve ever had. To see these girls be so engaged and encouraged by such a wonderful role-model, you just wouldn’t believe it.

No comments: