Nicaraguan girls camp helps shape future leaders

The month of December marks the end of the Nicaraguan school year and the nation’s youth are left to embrace the freedom of a two-month holiday break from the stresses of daily classes, homework and tests. 

The vacation commences with the excitement of the Purisima, the commotion of promocion week and the eager anticipation of the Christmas holiday. However, after the December festivities pass, the lack of academic structure begins to place Nicaraguan adolescent women into the molds of another learning environment inside the home. 

For Nicaraguan girls living in more rural parts of the country, the school vacation does not open the door to pursue many recreational and personal development activities that might exist for young girls from different cultural contexts in more metropolitan Nicaraguan cities or abroad. Many readers can probably recall delightful memories of summer vacations filled with camps, outings to the neighborhood pool and trips to the beach. As the school break begins in Nicaragua, it is an appropriate time to recall those fond summer memories while also imagining what summer vacation would feel like in the absence of such cherished pastimes and traditions. 

Young Nicaraguan women face a realm of responsibilities as they begin their journeys towards becoming women. During their school break, the majority of young girls in Nicaragua are left with the single option of returning to the confines of their homes to take on the domestic responsibilities of caring for the needs of their families. While it is necessary to contribute to the maintenance of a strong family unit, the lack of opportunity to engage in more stimulating activities can stunt potential emotional and psychological growth. 

Most Nicaraguan girls know little of what lies behind their respective departmental borders and have had few or no opportunities to explore the beautiful attractions within their own country, as well as interact with individuals from other regions. Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua would like to change these realities by providing young Nicaraguan women with the chance to enjoy a unique opportunity to enhance their vacation from school and to break up the monotony of the routines in their communities. 

This February, Peace Corps Nicaragua is giving young Nicaraguan women the opportunity to achieve a more balanced experience during their school break, by inviting them to participate in the second annual Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in the scenic mountains of Jinotega. Camp GLOW is an international Peace Corps initiative that was conceived by Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania in 1995. Since then, the camp has been held in several countries around the world. 

 

A Nicaraguan teen enjoys a ropes course adventure at Camp Glow

In February 2013, Peace Corps Nicaragua implemented the Nation’s first Camp GLOW to bring together 47 girls from six of the nation’s departments to engage in workshops on sexual health, self-esteem, leadership skills and future planning. Peace Corps Nicaragua hopes to continue this dynamic model for educating and empowering young girls to look beyond the limits society has placed on them and encourage a younger generation of women to dream of a future beyond the confinement of traditional gender norms. 

In February 2014, Peace Corps Nicaragua will partner with the organization, Plan Nicaragua, to promote their “Por Ser Niña” initiative that will give 70 young girls between the ages of 12-17 from across the country the opportunity to develop important life skills and provide them with the necessary tools to define the course of their futures. The girls will spend four days attending sessions that will teach them about their rights as women in Nicaragua and how they can begin to work towards creating a word that reflects gender equality. 

While the camp will devote part of its time focusing on formally educating girls on important social issues, it will also dedicate a portion to giving girls the opportunity to exercise their mental and physical beings by engaging in various activities such as sports, ropes courses, lake canoeing, arts and crafts and meditation. These types of recreations will develop sportsmanship, communication and creativity among the girls in order to build a strong network of future women leaders throughout Nicaragua. 

For many of these girls, it will be their first time outside of their respective departments, municipalities or even communities. This experience will allow the girls to stretch beyond their comfort zones by leaving home for several days and interacting with girls whom they did not know previously. 

Camp GLOW will foster an environment for the exchange of ideas and experiences among girls across the nation, which will open their minds to possibilities that lie beyond the borders of their hometowns. Furthermore, the girls will be trained as youth promoters to return to their communities and implement activities that will disseminate the knowledge they have gained to their peers and inspire a continued movement towards the advancement of Nicaraguan women. 

Camp GLOW will be a memorable experience for the girls and they will leave with a new perspective of themselves and how they can reach their greatest potential, regardless of societal norms and traditional gender roles. Camp GLOW has received dedicated support from Nicaraguan counterparts at Plan Nicaragua, donations from local businesses and organizations and generous contributions from US donors. If you would like to be part of this experience, please explore the Camp GLOW Nicaragua website to learn more information about Camp GLOW and ways that you can support the project. 

 

Hannah Grow

 

Talia Langman

Hannah Grow and Talia Langman are Peace Corps Volunteers working within the health sector. Hannah lives in a small-sized community in the department of Matagalpa and is an alumna of Penn State University. Talia Langman lives in a medium-sized community in the department Esteli and is an alumna of Brandeis University. Hannah and Talia will be completing their Peace Corps services in March 2014.

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  • pauline

    Will this be held when school starts again in February, or during the vacation months of December and January – I can’t find a date for the four day camp on the website?

    • Camp GLOW Nicaragua

      Hello! Camp GLOW will be held during the first week of February, several before school starts.

  • mnelson

    What a fantastic idea! It would be great if the Peace Corps reshaped its mission to educate children who are idle during long “vacations” and on weekends. Most Corps vets will tell you they felt their “work” was more of a social experience letting members of the host nation get to know the gringos. Teaching kids about democracy, civics, and the three R’s could do more to lift the countries out of poverty than another fake water project.

  • Ken

    I don’t suppose the camp will do any harm and it may do some good, but I am uncomfortable with Peace Corps volunteers “empowering young girls to look beyond the limits society has placed on them and encourage a younger generation of women to dream of a future beyond the confinement of traditional gender norms.”

    The assumptions are that (1) Nicaraguan society places “limits” on girls; (2) the girls are “confined” by “gender norms”; and (3) Peace Corps volunteers not much older than the girls themselves know a better way. A further assumption is that there is some kind of linear pathway between universally “traditional” gender norms and presumably more modern and enlightened ones.

    Any of these assumptions may be true, or at least contain kernels of truth, but they are all at minimum contestable. More importantly, instead of say bringing Nicaraguans the benefits of superior US engineering to help them dig better wells, the camp seeks to teach Nicas about the alleged superiority of some currently fashionable ideology of gender in the US. Isn’t this cultural imperialism rather than the old-fashioned volunteer work for which the Peace Corps was founded?

    I also don’t see partnerships with Nicaraguan NGOs, even feminist ones. The one stated partnership is with a UK-based NGO devoted to child welfare. I would feel a lot better if Nicaraguan organizations were included, since without them I suspect that the gender ideology departs somewhat from local views and experiences.

    Plus, Nicaragua has strong feminist traditions and organizations. Why aren’t they included? Their exclusion intensifies my concern about the agenda being tacitly one of cultural imperialism.

    Again, I don’t mind the camp, and figure it will probably be a nice experience for some girls. But I’m uncomfortable with it being developed and run by the Peace Corps, and thus indirectly the US government. It strikes me as more of an NGO undertaking, since it’s ideologically driven.

    • ellen

      Hi Ken: I enjoyed reading your response. It gave me pause to really reflect on my own views and perceptions. I worked with women for 4 years in Nicaragua in a few different capacities. I could relate to a lot of what this article speaks to. There were women that participated in programs our organization offered who had to ask permission from their maridos to attend the different programs we offered and would, at times, face criticism from elder women in their family for participating in activities outside the home. “Estas cosas son para mujeres perezosas…” Comments like this were made particularly when adolescent females or women participated in our art programming. So I can’t help but wonder if cultural norms have in fact placed some limits on women? I don’t know if this program is about impressing a “currently fashionable ideology of gender in the US” on Nicaraguan women, rather than giving women the opportunity to experience something outside of the norm? I think getting local feminist organizations involved is a wonderful idea! I wonder what their perceptions would be re: this camp’s vision and mission.

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  • Nancy Bergman

    As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I support this program and have been involved with Peace Corps Projects here in Nicaragua. during the Christmas school holidays, many students are board and not challenged or learning. This is a great opportunity to be engaged in learning during the holidays. I do have a student that I would like to recommend for the program. are there any openings?

  • randy higgins

    I have to agree with Ken and question this sort of activity. I have been coming into Latin America for many since I was a child many years ago.
    The role of women has naturally expanded into areas that one could not image before the war:

    1. the town I live in has a female mayor
    2. the town I live in has a female police chief
    3. the grocery store I shop in has a female manager
    4. the bank I use has many females in management positions
    5. our favorite restaurant has a female manager

    The list could go on and on. I see women in all positions of society
    and I hope they got there by merit, not by any program. I hope the camp will be a good experience for the ladies, but I want merit to be the deciding factor, not gender or any special program.