I spent my week off from school, assisting with a conference organized by Peace Corps volunteers for young Mozambican women from around the North and Central regions of the country. The program is called Raparigas em Desenvolimento, Educação e Saudé (REDES), which means Girls in Development, Education and Health. Many Peace Corps volunteers around the country work with groups of young women to educate about health, HIV/AIDs, relationships and educational opportunities, as well as doing fun or community-based activities like arts, cooking and sewing. I am working on trying to set up a group for females in Estaquinha based on some of these models, but things haven’t come together in time for me to bring girls to the conference. Instead, I just went to add logisitical support to the other volunteers, and I even ended up co-leading a workshop on public speaking. Even though I was spared the stress and responsibility of being responsible for my own girls at the conference, I couldn’t help feeling sad that some of my own students weren’t benefitting from all the girls learned and did over the week.
The conference was held at a university in the picturesque hills outside of Chimoio, with dorm-style housing for the girls and adequate houses for the volunteers and other staff. I think the conference combined a good mix of information sessions (on self-confidence, women’s health, HIV/AIDs, study skills and time-management, women’s rights, and secondary education and professional opportunities), workshops (intro to business skills, cooking and nutrition, self-defense, and public speaking with Rebecca and Charlotte), and fun, summer-camp-type stuff (relays, games, a talent show, a hike, “cabin” time, etc.). Most of the sessions were led by Mozambican facilitators and speakers, who have a better idea of these girls’ lives and experiences, not to mention fluency in Portuguese, but the Peace Corps volunteers organized the whole thing and took care of logistics. It’s not the type of experience that most Mozambican girls (or boys for that matter) get to have very often, so it was particularly exciting. I was astonished by the lack of cynicism that most of the girls displayed; if you’d asked me to draw pictures of my dreams when I was seventeen, I would have rolled my eyes and stormed off in a huff. Most of the girls participated fully in all the events and their energy and enthusiasm was really gratifying and inspiring. Some of them, at least, seemed pretty sophisticated and chiquey (cute and well-dressed) to begin with; I wonder if some of my girls from the mato would have felt out of place or intimidated. As volunteers, we had a blast and felt good about the week overall, but were exhausted by the middle of the week. Next year, those of us who will be around will be sure to plan for some downtime.