Camp GLOW: My Legacy in Jordan
The idea for Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) was born last November. It started as a brainstorming session, but eventually the excitement was contagious. Three Peace Corps female volunteers and I decided to create a Camp GLOW in Jordan, after reading that it had been successfully started in Eastern European PC countries. The idea was to invite Jordanian girls from Peace Corps communities and financially disadvantaged villages who had the potential to become great future female leaders.
Finally, after 9 months of planning, preparing, writing manuals, reading applications, selecting Jordanian females to be counselors, organizing activities, seeking a community sponsor, and pleading for friends and family to donate money, we made it!
We selected 26 girls for Camp GLOW, from ages 15-18, based on their essays, English skills, recommendation letters, and leadership and motivational qualities (and, of course, parental approval that they could sleep outside their homes...many for the first time!). We selected the best, the brightest, and the most interesting. On July 20, 2008, the Peace Corps counselors and four Jordanian volunteers (all university students) stood impatiently at the dorms, praying to Allah that all the girls would arrive safely and on time. Some campers were coming from as far south as Ma'an, while others were coming from villages only 20 minutes away.
The first day went perfectly; all the girls arrived before lunch and were soon chatting away and making new friends. I had previously been apprehensive about the girls' initiating conversations with other students from different regions in Jordan, but the campers were all more timid around the counselors than their new friends!
Throughout the week, we hosted sessions that ranged from environmental awareness to goal setting and from community service to the importance of writing in a journal. Each day, there were guest speakers, and the girls bombarded these invited professionals with questions about university education, nutritional diet, how they could strive for a similar career, and how to use the dental floss that was in the goodie bag from the medical professional. It was so encouraging as a counselor to see the level of English that these girls possessed and the motivation they had to pursue careers in pharmacy or aeroscience. In my Peace Corps village, I've never been able to get over the frustration of working at a school where the level of English in my 10th grade class ranges from students who don't know the alphabet to girls who have lived in Bahrain for 5 years and thus speak and understand English at a 5th grade level. In contrast, our GLOW girls were all enthusiastically speaking English to the counselors, and even the more intimidated girls had improved their English skills by the end of the week.
None of the 26 campers seemed to be overwhelmed by the busy schedule we had designed. Our plan worked; we had intended to fill every waking minute with group activities and sports so that the girls wouldn't have a chance to miss their families. Only twice during the entire week did we have girls approach a counselor and say she was homesick. Even better, her new friends' reactions were to console her and provide a comforting hug.
During a discussion on day three, one camper from Mafraq boldly admitted that, in the days leading up to the camp, she was scared that she wouldn't have any friends and that everyone would come in their already-formed cliques. However, she happily exclaimed that she had already made friends whom she felt closer to than her own schoolmates, and that this was the first time that she was meeting people from regions such as Shobak and Rumtha. She wasn't alone; all the campers found new friends whose personalities and goals matched their own. Camp GLOW gave all of our girls their first opportunity to travel outside their villages, to meet girls from regions they had previously never heard of, and to develop their individual personalities and goals.
Each day, a sports session was held in the late afternoon. Before camp started, the counselors tentatively scheduled an hour of sports a day, fearing that some girls wouldn't participate or that they would be tired and bored within the first 15 minutes. Imagine how happy I was when, on the second day, several girls approached me and asked, "Ms. Mindy, Do we get to play sport today?" And when I answered them with a yes, they huddled toward each other and giggled excitedly, like they had been told we were taking a field trip to the King's palace. They used the sports hour as a chance to shed their head scarves and act like giddy schoolkids. We taught them games like broom hockey and went on night hikes around the campus together, but they were just as happy with a simple game like Sharks and Minnows (which we called Lions and Deers because a lot of them had never been to the sea) and freeze tag.
Watching these girls unabashedly play sports and run around without worrying about being culturally inappropriate (since we were an all-female staff and had reserved the gym court only for Camp GLOW) was my favorite hour of each day. In my Peace Corps village, I'm often the only girl over 10 years of age walking outside, and I always see boys playing soccer or riding bikes outdoors, while their sisters are inside behind closed doors. It was better than apple pie to watch these girls scream at their teammates to pass the ball or squeal and jump when they thought they had scored a goal. I was especially touched when one camper ran up to me and shouted in one breath, "Ms. Mindy, Thank you so much! We are so much fun! This is first time I have learn game and play with balls! I love to do sport and you are my team captain!" Even though these jumbled sentences left me repeating them to unravel their grammatical errors in my head, I understood her perfectly: She loved sports, and she could play sports all day long. Ditto, I thought.
On our last night, as we were walking back to the dormitories, I overheard a group of 3 girls exclaiming to each other that they would stay up all night. "We won't sleep...this is our last night before going home tomorrow! You have to kick me if I start to fall asleep." Little did they know that I understood their excited Arabic conversation 100%. I didn't mind, though. I wasn't about to ruin a great camp by playing the Nazi who forces everyone to be in their beds by 10 pm. I remember summer tennis camps and outdoors retreats when all I wanted to do the last night of camp was to stay up all night with a flashlight and do girly stuff with the friends that I'd soon have to say goodbye to.
The next morning, we found the girls with hollow eyes and 30 minutes late for breakfast. We had to drag over half of them out of bed, and force them to eat our last day's breakfast of falafel. After the morning's workshops and sessions, our last activity before packing bags was to share thoughts about the camp. Each girl held a "Sharing Stick" and told the others what she had learned, what she would miss, and what her favorite memories of Camp GLOW were. By the 5th girl, we had sniffles and bloodshot eyes, chins trembling to keep back the tears. Even the counselors were tearing up. It was inspiring to hear directly from the campers how much they had learned from the camp, how much confidence they had gained in themselves, and how many fond memories they would carry back to their villages.
I'm so proud of Camp GLOW – in words it sounds quite mundane: a leadership camp for Jordanian girls. But if you could experience working in a village for a frustrating 2 years, never quite feeling that you had that glory moment which you could take home to America and say, "That's why I became a Peace Corps volunteer"...if you could know how patiently my fellow Peace Corps counselors and I have waited to see Camp GLOW become reality...if you could see how these girls walked away from camp with ideas about recycling and basketball to bring back to their little sisters and cousins...if you could believe that in a week, we had transformed 26 village girls into 26 inspiring models for their communities...if you could believe that these girls had come to camp on Day 1 wearing black abbayas (a full-length black robe traditionally worn by women) and head scarves, and walked away wearing the tie-dye t shirts that we had made on Day 5...if you could hear the enthusiasm these girls had when talking about becoming either a counselor or re-applying to attend Camp GLOW next year...if you could see the tears mixed with the smiles when these girls said goodbye to their new friends and mentors...then you'd know how proud I am of all the 6 Peace Corps counselors who helped turn this spontaneous thought into hard-won reality, of the 4 Jordanian female university students we selected to be mentors for the girls, of the 26 Jordanian high-school girls who embraced everything Camp GLOW threw at them, and of Jordan University of Science and Technology for being our community sponsor and letting us parade around their campus, sing our cheers in the early mornings, and sleep in their female dormitories. I'm still glowing from last week's successful Camp GLOW and, in sha Allah (God willing), next year will be just as successful and memorable.
Thank you, to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and Camp GLOW co-founders:
Jessica Cho, for your ability to handle logistics and your wasta with our community sponsor.
Natasha Marwah, for always being optimistic and making me feel tall (physically, not egotistically).
Julia Hirschy, for always remaining calm, even when the rest of us were worried over the minor details.
Linsey Meldrim, because when I look at you I think of orange circles, and because we could count on you for discipline and barbeesh threats.
Bobbie Zerfas, because we both loved Rahma and I got more of a kick watching you sing "When You're Happy and You Know It" than watching the girls sing it in their skit.
I couldn't have asked for a better team of inspiring, motivated, funny, and dedicated girls to lead Camp GLOW.
To see our inspiring GLOW girls' team cheers, click here.
For live talent show videos, click here.
Also, the Jordan Times and MTV published articles about the camp!