Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Perhaps the most memorable and meaningful experience of my days as a Peace Corps volunteer was running, together with 4 other PCVs, the third iteration of a young women’s leadership camp called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Each summer since 2000, high school-aged girls from all over Bulgaria have come together for a week of teambuilding, networking, leadership training, and empowerment (the website is a recent addition).
To call the camp inspiring would be an understatement. Working with these 80 high school girls, I probably learned as much as they did. They were a major inspiration for me to do more work on youth development, minority rights, and women’s rights while I was in Bulgaria. My experiences at the camp were also a large factor in my decision to pursue more human rights-related work after I left Bulgaria. I’m still in touch with many of the girls as well, and I can say that the camp has made a far, far greater difference in their lives than any of us would ever have imagined.
These young women are exceptional in so many ways, but they face the twin obstacles of being economically disadvantaged and living in a highly patriarchal society (not to mention being at extraordinarily high risk of becoming unwitting victims of human trafficking and other nefarious activities). They’re the kinds of people who give you hope for the future. Of all of my Peace Corps experiences, doing something that will help these young women develop the English skills, leadership skills, and life skills that they will use to pursue whatever bright future might await them was by far the most rewarding, and surely among the most important in the long run.
Peace Corps volunteers have, for seven consecutive years now, fought hard to keep the camp alive and elicit donations from kind-hearted souls who recognize the value and impact of these programs, and it’s always down to the wire on getting enough funding to make the camp happen. Happily, this year they should have a little more help, since some of my former Peace Corps colleagues, along with volunteers from later years, have set up a new foundation to help keep this camp and the other major PCV-supported youth camp running.
It’s nice, every once in a while, to find news of good things.