22 February 2012

GLADI SL: Part 1

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” A woman who was a champion for human rights and worked towards making women equals among men. These words of wisdom are often hard to remember especially for those girls out in the world without a voice. Most of us had countless women before us as our teachers, role models, mentors and influencers but I asked myself who do my girls have? What women have came before them to say that it’s ok for a girl to lead the boys, or to say no to sex or to work for the betterment of the female situation in Salone…well the question is many. My principal, Mrs. Shereef leads Harford School with an iron fist and doesn’t take slack from many men in the community, a fellow teacher Koma Hassan Kamara, who is transforming girl’s rights policies in the Moyamba District and even all of us female PCVs. But unlike our teachers who graced the spotlight, Salone’s females silently do the hard work, without little notice. It was high time, that girls from all over county begin to “lead” and “develop” Sierra Leone.

The first annual “Girls Leading and Developing Sierra Leone” (GLADI SL) Girls Conference officially opened in a music filled hall of the girl-centered Harford School for Girls. My Principal addressed the 65 girls encouraging them to continue to their education and to work hard to share the conference’s message to others in their school. After the African jams were quieted, the real work began.

Girls Conference was like a summer camp. They were woken up by a bell, slept all together in the boarding home and mentored by their camp counsellors (PCV) started Goal Setting was first on the agenda and it started with a catchy jingle lead by a fun, energetic Sierra Leonean. The girls were taught about the importance of having a goal and each one had to set a short term and long term goal. Then discuss with their PCV on how they wanted to achieve these goals.

It was important to address what challenges the girls face in getting an education and to help them think of ideas to revolutionize these challenges. We asked the girls how they thought that their communities could increase people’s awareness of the importance of girls’ education. Here were some suggestions. Students could organize discussions or theatre presentations about the importance of girls' education. Students, village elders, and teachers could discuss the importance of delaying marriage until a girl has finished her education, to encourage parents not to overburden girls with chores and to divide chores evenly between sons and daughters, have older girls could arrange a time to visit a primary school, and primary school girls could visit a middle or high school and girls could write letters to local newspapers or radio stations to talk about the importance of girls' education

 Sex, the reproductive system, women/male sexual anatomy and menstruation can be topics which are taboo to talk about here in Sierra Leone, especially while in school with boys.  With the professional guidance of a few highly expert Sierra Leonean Nurses and Midwives as well PCVs, the girls were taught what happens biologically in sex, when women conceive, the process of menstruation and what happens in childbirth. Coupled with this sex talk, was a discussion on family planning. Many girls don’t understand their options in contraceptives or how they even work.  This session brought on lots of chatter between the girls and questions in general about sexy women things.

 Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah, your first grader teacher, your Mom, we all had mentors to admire, inspire and lead us. It was important for the girls to notice that they too have great female leaders around them and most are right in front of their eyes. We invited a variety of woman from different career paths to come share their life experiences on a Career Panel. Wanted to make sure each Career Panellist focus on their education and it’s challenges and how they overcame those challenges. Who were their role models and how their career has contributed to Sierra Leonean society. Each leading lady also gave the girls advice and took questions from the girls conferencers.

Restless Development is an NGO focused on training youth as community mentors to educate and raise awareness for HIV/AIDS. The group is best known for their songs and dramas all produced by the trained children. It was important for the girls conferencers to see their own peers getting up in front of a crowd and talking about these issues. Osman, the Moyamba District coordinator, talked extensively about how the disease is transmitted. He said it was like a business and trade. You give and you get. Each girl was given an envelope and had to trade with each other aka perform transmission. Some envelopes were HIV positive and others had condoms. But they didn’t know who had which while one girl didn’t do business with anyone representing abstinence. At the end of their ‘trading’ some opened their envelopes only to find AIDS. The girls need to get a visual on how fast the disease is spread. After the activity, the discussion moved to prevention.

Any Dispatch reader with little kids or those who are Disney enthusiasts (like myself) know the story of Mulan. Daughter of retired Chinese warrior takes her father’s place in the army to beat the Huns and find family honour.  She ends up saving China. It’s a story about girl power and shows that girls are capable of anything boys can do. As Mulan beat the Hun leader the hall was filled with cheers from the girls. They enjoyed the story and the music; singing the songs throughout the next day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love it Batch! Sounds fantastic!