Camp Avenir

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again. When kids head off on summer vacation, little sisters graduate from college, and we all celebrate the birthday of the US of A. And over here in Peace Corps land we bring kids to camp. Last summer I worked as a counselor at the southern regional boys’ camp in Ouidah and at a local girls’ camp in a nearby city called Bohicon. This year, I will again serve as a counselor (and camp nurse) at the boys’ camp in Ouidah and at a girls’ camp in a city called Savalou. But to commemorate the fact that I will be finishing my service in a few months (more on that later), I decided to organize my very own camp in Zagnanado, which happened last week.

Most of the girls’ camps in Benin use the global Peace Corps girls’ camp name of GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Now some of you may notice that this lovely acronym is in English. Indeed, it is. And you would be correct in asserting that Benin is not an English-speaking country. You would also be correct that the French version (Filles guidant notre monde) doesn’t leave us with a lovely acronym, which would be why all Peace Corps countries have adopted GLOW. And yes, you’d be correct in assuming that the boys’ version would be BLOW, though that has fallen out of favor recently for some reason (this year the boys’ camp is called BRO, Boys Respecting Others).

All of this is to say that I decided to skirt tradition by calling my camp something in French: Camp Avenir (Camp Future). The general idea was to spend a week with the girls with the best grades in the Beninese equivalents of 6th and 7th grade at the secondary school in Zagnanado – the one where I had my English Club and AIDS-free Youth event, etc – to get them to start thinking about their future and to give them the information necessary to succeed. Lofty, yes.

I lucked out for a few reasons. First of all, I am really close with the administration of the school, so they helped me out a lot. Second of all, the mayor’s office agreed to fund almost the entire camp. Third of all, I had some really great Peace Corps volunteers come to organize the camp with me. We split up most of the sessions, with volunteers talking about things like malaria, nutrition, study skills, sexual harassment, possible career options, HIV, self-esteem, healthy relationships, etc. The three women volunteers (along with Estelle, the 12th grader who is also on the Zagnanado Amour et Vie peer education team and who volunteered to help me out throughout the week) gave a session on sex ed – something that is not really a part of a Beninese education. I included this session after a girl at last year’s camp in Bohicon told me that her sister got pregnant from using someone else’s towel. We also had some Beninese guest speakers. Gisele, the woman who is in charge of training at the Peace Corps and who is from my town, came to speak about her experience being harassed at school and about how she succeeded in life. A friend from Bohicon came to speak about Moringa, a plant that grows all over here and can be used to add key nutrients to otherwise simple food. The director of the social services center in Zagnanado came to speak about the rights of girls and women in Benin and about the interventions the center offers. And my neighbor came to speak about how a professional woman can balance the responsibilities of home life with having a full-time job.

Also, we taught them games like 7-Up and Four Corners and had Arts and Crafts sessions and a daily match of soccer.

It was an awesome time, and I think it really succeeded. The girls were all bummed that it couldn’t last more than a week. And the only snag the whole time was that the water in the school was cut so we had to send girls and volunteers to pull water from a neighbor’s well all week. The camp slogan was “L’avenir, c’est moi!” and the girls were chanting it all week long.

In other news: A couple of weeks ago we held the National English Spelling Bee up in Natitingou. Actually, it may turn out that this is the last time I will head up north before leaving Benin. The trip was pretty painless, a whole crew of volunteers and their kids took the bus up – meaning that everyone got their own seat, quite a novelty in African transport. Alas, neither of the kids from Team Zagnanado placed in the top 3. Although the boy who did win was one of my campers at boys’ camp last summer, so I will take all of the credit for his victory. At least they got to see a totally different part of the country. In the case of my boy, it was the first time he had ever left Zagnanado in his life.

Breaking News: PCV Geoff Guenther has booked his return flight to the United States. Mark your calendars for September 24, 2013. Mr. President, if you’re reading (and let’s face it, you probably are) you might want to consider declaring a national holiday.

PHOTOS:

Team Zagnanado studying on the bus to the National English Spelling Bee:

Team Zagnanado 2013

The Bee winner, a kid that was in my group at boys’ camp last summer:

Number 1!

The Peace Corps Director of Training came to speak on Day 1 of Camp Avenir Zagnanado:

Guest Speaker Day 1

A camper shows us all how to wash our hands:

Hand Washing

Americans really know how to brush their teeth:

Americans with Good Dental Hygiene

Apparently I gesticulate wildly when speaking French – who knew?:

The King of Hand Gestures

A rousing game of Red Light, Green Light (every single camper cheated!):

Red Light, Green Light

The whole Camp Avenir crew:

The Whole Camp Avenir Crew

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