POSTED ON BEHALF OF MARG BRENNAN
One of my most memorable experiences while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea was definitely participating in Girls’ Conference, which brings together teenage girls from each region of Guinea for several days of topics, ranging from women’s rights and roles, to education, to family planning and STDs, to female genital mutilation, to study and organizational skills, to nutrition, etc. A more specific description of girls’ and boys’ conferences can be seen through the Friends of Guinea website, which is mainly run by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and family members of current volunteers:
The video link below is from when I was a volunteer in 2009 and highlights some of the activities. Although this was not the regional conference that I participated in, it’s a wonderful view of the types of conversations and learning that went on at all of these conferences, and was put together by one of the volunteers at the conference:
The sensitizations at the end, although only in the video for a short time, were some of the most important trainings, as these girls go back to their communities and lead their own sessions and trainings with community members. The topics that were covered were things that Guinean girls often don’t ever get the chance to talk about, period, let alone educate others on.
This worked best in an educational setting as gender specific (both the boys and girls were much more easy about opening up and being honest about how they felt concerning all the issues that we discussed) and for at least middle school aged girls, although I would say high school aged is better, as they really have the capacity to have an understanding and strong opinion of all that is discussed.
The knowledge, skills and attitudes that I got to watch the girls develop over the course of the conference was amazing. Many of them had very strong opinions on the subjects, but had never been given the opportunity to have their opinions heard. The girls bonded with each other and really worked together to develop the skills necessary to be able to teach what they learned to someone else.
I had a tough time really choosing two pillars of peace that were the most applicable, but reframing history and skill building are definitely very supported by this event. These girls are living in a culture that is extremely male dominated: throughout every year in high school and college, the percent of female students decreases; several of my 9th and 10th grade students dropped out of school to be married (often as someone’s third or fourth wife) while I was teaching. There are about ½ as many literate adult females as males. Most girls are circumcised when they are children by absolutely no choice of their own. These girls were incredibly inspiring to me, as they had grown up experiencing what we would call extreme injustices and sincerely wanted to be part of a positive shift in the role they played in their country. These girls also left the conference in general with an increased sense of confidence in their own ability to lead and teach. I facilitated a girls’ club that the girls I took to the conference were a part of. When they returned from the conference, they organized a series of plays that they performed in our community building for our town. They took what they learned and transformed it into a performance that both children and adults came to watch and understand. Watching how confident they were in their ability to pass along what they had learned was incredible to see.