Saturday, May 18, 2013


I am on such a high after a successful week at GLOW.  For over a year a group of 14 female PCVs in my group have been working together to create the 2nd Annual Camp Glow.  With GLOW (Girls Leading Our World we are working to encourage female empowerment in our rural communities here in Swaziland.  In order to make GLOW possible we fundraised using a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) Grant where we asked family and friends in America to support our project to improve the lives of people in Swaziland.  With that grant money we organized a workshop called TOT (Training of Trainers) which took place in January and was hugely successful.  The other portion of the money was allocated for Camp GLOW.  Camp GLOW was a week-long Camp which brought together 49 girls ages 13-19, 21 Swazi counselors from the January workshop, and 17 PCVs.  Each PCV brought 1 counselor from their community and 3 girls to participate in Camp which means that that this camp was able to bring  girls from every corner of the country, including the most rural and disconnected corners of the country.

Kelly R, co-director of GLOW and I at Mabuda Farms 
I am so thankful for the support of everyone back home who made GLOW possible.  GLOW is the hot fudge and the cherry on top of my Peace Corps Service.  It is the culmination of all the work I have done throughout the last 2 years.  The most special thing about working with GLOW in Swaziland is that overcoming gender roles, encouraging female empowerment and health education is so needed here and through girls clubs and Camp GLOW I am really able to see an immediate impact of the work with the girls I invited to Camp.

Clerisse Lemke, GLOW Director with one of her campers
Camp was awesome! On the first full day of Camp was all about sexual and reproductive health, an important topic since many young girls in Swaziland don’t have an option to make decisions about their own bodies or the knowledge about how to make decisions if they are given the opportunity.  We talked about anatomy, hygiene, STIs, contraceptives, abstinence and alternatives to sex, having a child by choice, and healthy relationships.  It was a day heavy with information, and throughout the week we worked on giving the girls the confidence to be able to use this information to benefit their own lives.

The second day was a lot of fun as we explored the girls’ creativity.  A Swazi art gallery, Yebo! Art has an Art Outreach Program that we were able to benefit from for the second year running.  With Yebo! The girls were able to express their creativity through painting, poetry, and decorating their t-shirts with their own unique screen prints.  It was great to see the girls really get into the sessions on art day since they don’t have art classes in school and creativity and ingenuity isn’t celebrated in this culture.

Some of the artwork created by campers on Art Day.
The last two days were all about leadership, teamwork, goal setting, and looking to the future.  On the last night, the girls participated in a talent show where they were able to display the courage and confidence they have been working on all week.  The girls really had talent!  We watched cultural dancing, hip hop and gum-boot dancing, singing, skits, and poetry.  One of the best moments of the week happened during the talent show one of the deaf girls concluded her group dance with a solo and the crowd erupted with sign language applause!
Sizakele participating in the leadership activity while Bandzile looks on.

There were many other great moments from camp that I will always remember.  I was so proud of the counselors we trained in January who came to camp and really stepped up into the leadership roles.  They were expected to lead the health sessions we taught them three months ago, and with only little preparation they did a fantastic job.  We really relied on the counselors for leading sessions and translating because some of the campers were young and all of them came from really rural areas where the standard of English is below average.  Also, during the poetry session I enjoyed watching one of my campers perform a poem about how HIV affects her life.  I enjoyed washable sanitary pad making, as a sustainable and less expensive option for a girl’s time-of-the-month.  I enjoyed the open and honest conversations and questions the girls asked of us about health, sex, and relationships.  It showed success in creating a safe and welcome environment.  I enjoyed watching campers try to learn sign language and engage the two deaf campers.  I enjoyed watching my shy campers gain confidence throughout the week and come out of their shells.  I enjoyed the camaraderie and enthusiasm that was built throughout the week. And lastly, I enjoyed working with otherPCVs on the GLOW Organizing Committee.  We did such a great and comprehensive job planning the camp that there were no major setbacks or incidents. Everything went according to plan, more or less.  Together, we have set a high bar for next year’s Committee.
My girls and I - From the left:  Counselor: Fisiwe Dlamin, Campers: Siphiwe Shongwe, Bandzile Ngenethwa, me, and Sizakele Dlamini

Close of Service Conference
The day after GLOW Camp finished the GLOW Organizing Committee along with the other remaining members of my group came together in the capitol city for our Close of Service Conference.  We all met two years ago as strangers in a hotel in Philadelphia, and now we are preparing to finish our service in two short months.  This was our last conference together.  It was designed as an opportunity to debrief our service, to talk about all the good things we did and skills we gained and to start planning our next steps as we prepare to re-enter America.  The conference was held at a beautiful hotel south of the capitol city called Forester’s Arms.  It was such a treat, decorated in country-chic with such comfortable beds, delicious food, and beautiful views the week was beyond any expectation.

The last day we were honored by a visit from the Deputy Director of the Peace Corps.  She traveled all the way from Washington DC.  As we sat in the conference room, she was so genuine and told stories from her Peace Corps Service.  She asked us all to introduce ourselves and our favorite part of our service.  When it was my time to speak, I motioned to all of us on the GLOW organizing committee.  We were all wearing the GLOW t-shirts my dad had made for us which made a huge impression on the Director.  She could really see how proud we were of the work we have done. I also mentioned my work I have done with hand crafts in my community.  Afterward she bought 3 baskets from me that I was selling for the women in my community.  It is so cool to know that the work from the women in my community will be displayed in the office of such a powerful woman in Washington!

What a great two weeks!  What a way to end these two years of service and so proud to have had the experience.  Only 9 weeks left in Swaziland.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Meet my GLOW Girls

I want to introduce you to my GLOW girls, to the girls whose lives you helped.
Siphiwe Shongwe is a Form 4 (11th Grade) student, 18 years old.  She has 5 sisters, no brothers, and is the second youngest.  She really looks up to her sisters as role models.  Siphiwe lives with her mother and father.  Her mother is a seasonal agriculture worker in the sugarcane fields and the fruit season.  Her father abandoned them as a young child, but has since come back and supports his family by wood working, carving wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils.  Siphiwe wants to go into nursing or social work for a career.  If she pursues these career paths she will be the first to attend university in her family. 

Siphiwe is a quiet girl, but very thoughtful.  She soaks up all the information we give her and she comes ready and willing to participate in every activity.  Her favorite session at camp was the abstinence session.  During that session, they role-played ways to say ‘No’ and postpose sex.  They also had an open conversation where they asked any question about sex, relationships, and boys; a topic too taboo to talk about in their home life.

Siphiwe Shongwe after dinner on night 3
Siphiwe was always willing to participate and usually the first to participate.  She knows what she wants and goes for it.  During camp, Siphiwe was one of the first campers and most enthusiastic to learn how to make washable sanitary pads, she was one of the first to share her poem during the poetry session where she chose to write about HIV and how it affects her life, and she did a wonderful job in the talent show as she portrayed the grandmother of a girl who was to be married during a short drama/play.

Sizakele Dlamini, my second camper is 17 years old and in Form 2 (9th Grade).  She is the 3rd eldest of nine children.   Most of her siblings are only half siblings as her mother was traditionally married to another man after her father passes away.  Sizakele only knows her father from pictures that people have shown to her.  When her mother was married, that woman must move to the parental homestead of the husband.  Sizakele now lives with her aunt and uncle while her mom lives far away near the north-east border of the country.  Sizakele sees her mother over school breaks.

Sizakele Dlamini at Mabuda Farms Day Trip
Sizakele told me about life at her home with her aunt and uncle.  She says she wakes up at 6am, then she makes her bed, washes dishes, sweeps the house and yard, and polishes her school shoes.  She makes breakfast which usually consists of sour porridge, a dish that I could never get used to.  At 7:00 she starts her 30 minute walk to school.  School starts at 7:45 and goes until 3:15.  At school, 
Sizakele is responsible for looking after the toilets.  She has to make sure they are clean at the end of the day and supplied with newspaper (toilet paper… ouch!).  After school, she goes home.  Wednesday is laundry day.  She must wash her school uniforms.  Dinner is usually porridge mixed with emasi (sour milk.. yuck!), but she ensures me that she actually likes it and the other girls agree that they also like it even though its curdled milk.  After dinner is over, Sizakele makes a point to tell me that is when she studies.  Her favorite subjects in school are science and English.  She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.

Sizakele’s favorite sessions at camp were the abstinence and the STI lessons.  She is looking forward to teaching girls in our community about the things she learned while at Camp this year.  She even mentioned wanting to be a counselor one day.
Sizakele is always smiling and laughing.  She is a very talented dancer.  She won ‘Best Solo Dance’ at the talent show with her crazy moves.  At school she is the leader of the Girls Dance Group.  Sizakele choreographs the dances with one of the other girls in the class and then teaches the dance to the rest of the girls.  It is pretty impressive.

My last camper is Bandzile Ngenethwa  .  She is 14 years old and in Form 1 (8th Grade).  She is the 3rd eldest among seven children.  She lives with her mom who is a math teacher about 45 minute bus ride from Bandzile’s school.  Bandzile must leave home at 6am to get to school on time.   Her father passed away in 2009.

Bandzile is such a thoughtful and responsible girl.  Her teachers really respect her and recommended her without a doubt.  At school, Bandzile is a prefect.  She is tasked with writing up any student who speaks siSwati in class and responsible to set a good example for the other students in class.  She favorite subjects are math and science and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
Bandzile reading the poem she composed on Art Day
Banzile really enjoyed Art Day at camp.  She particularly liked painting and the poetry and performance session.  Bandzile also shined during the talent show during a group dance.  The dance was memorably capped off by one of the deaf girls who took center stage for a hip-hop dance solo.  The crowd went wild with sign language applause.

There were two girls from the School for the Deaf this year.  It was great to watch their interactions with the rest of the girls throughout the week, from how nervous they were at the beginning to how well they integrated into the rest of the group by the end.  My girls were part of their group throughout the week, going from session to session and together with them in the dorms.  I was proud at how well they included the deaf girls in their activities and even tried to learn some sign language.
With the two deaf girls who did an awesome job at camp!

Last but not least, my counselor, a young woman we trained during the January Training of Trainers.  Her name is FisiweDlamini, 20 years old, she finished high school last year.  She came to camp this year as one of the youngest counselors.  I was so proud of her in the way she stepped up to be a leader among the counselors and always with the biggest smile on her face.  She taught a lesson on STIs, and participated in a variety of other lessons, she oversaw the camper in their chore responsibilities throughout the week, and she could always be counted on to be doing her job.
At home, Fisiwe lives with her mother, father, little sister, and her grandmother.  She has other sister who have married and moved out.  Her father is a police officer in town.  He comes home on weekends.  Her mother works as a cleaner at the high school she graduated from, the school where Siphiwe attends.  Her mother also sells flavored ice blocks to the students during lunch break.
Fisiwe is very active at her church teaching Sunday School. She wants to continue her education so she can become a nurse.

Fisiwe in a session during Careers Day