If you follow my blog regularly, you’ve heard me talking about GLOW (GIrls Leading Our World). GLOW started as a Peace Corps volunteer initiative in Romania in 1991. Since then it has spread to more than 60 peace corps countries and has been in Georgia since 2003 (I think). With the exception of 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia and Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated, there has been a GLOW camp every summer since. This year, I was privileged to be a part of the planning and execution of this camp as a GLOW committee member.
Beginning August 2 and winding up on August 20, we held two training of trainers and two camps with a total of 13 Georgian counselors, 97 girls ages 14-17, and 13 Peace Corps Volunteers. It was an incredibly long two and half weeks with very late nights and early mornings. By the end, I was a bit of a zombie. But it was so worth it! The girls learned about leadership skills, reproductive health, volunteerism, and gender equality. It was really amazing to see the excitement and energy of these girls upon arrival transformed into friendships, thoughtful discussions, and action plans by the end.
Anyone who has followed my blog knows that dealing with gender issues is one of my biggest challenges here in Georgia. So, in my opinion, working with girls to help them realize their potential is truly the best use of my time here. One example of the need for such empowerment came while we were in the midst of camp one. We heard through the grapevine that one of the girls who was scheduled to come to camp two (and also lives in the community of two of our PCVs) ran off and got married. She had just turned 16. She married a 25 year old. Undoubtedly, the sudden marriage was driven by the desire for physical intimacy. What this likely now means for this 16 year old girl is that she will be pregnant within the next 6 months and won’t finish high school, much less attend college. She will probably be in a marriage with a striking imbalance in power and no means of righting that imbalance which could mean a life of unhappiness and abuse. We couldn’t help but wish we had invited her to the first camp instead of the second. Needless to say, she didn’t attend camp two either, although we would have been happy to have her.
All of this to say that the need to reach these girls at a young age is incredibly important. And GLOW is one of the only programs in Georgia that I know of that is doing this. One of the best parts of GLOW are our counselors. Because the camp is planned by Peace Corps volunteers but conducted in Georgian, we need to have counselors who can communicate fluently in both languages. Many of our counselors are therefore FLEX students meaning they have spent a year in high school studying in the United States. In addition to this, they study law, medicine, social work, etc. and all have an incredible commitment to improving their country which is evident by the work they do through various NGOs and community projects. They are an amazing group of young women. And they are the perfect role models for our GLOW girls. They model what focused, smart, driven women can accomplish in Georgia. It’s been a real honor getting to work with them and getting to know them over the past few weeks.
Of course, wrangling that many people to various sessions and activities for two and a half weeks doesn’t go off without a hitch. There may have been a 2-hour period during a hike in which a number of our girls and leaders were “separated” from the rest of us. And there were definitely times where tensions ran high amongst those doing the organizing. And we certainly had our share of unforeseeable issues. But in true Peace Corps style, we demonstrated our flexibility and adaptability and rolled with it. And I think we learned a lot along the way as well. I know I did.
So, now the time has come to focus on the part of GLOW that excites me the most – making sure that GLOW is sustainable long after we leave. To that end, in January, we made what had been GLOW camp into its very own NGO, GLOW Georgia. We have an incredible board made up of our founders and our very driven Director (and founder) Ina. It is amazing the amount of work they have all put in to make this years camp a success. And we are all overflowing with ideas to build GLOW Georgia into something more than just a summer camp. One of our biggest aims, that we’ve put a lot of work into and will be putting even more work into in the coming months, is in developing our Taking GLOW Home initiative. We don’t want these girls to come to one week of camp and then never put the tools that they developed to work. We want them to go home and become leaders in their communities through projects, presentations, and creating GLOW Clubs. That’s one of the projects I’m really excited to focus on and develop in the coming year. We already have a number of really great ideas for it. They just take some funding which we’ll be working on. I’m also excited to be working on the marketing aspect of GLOW. We already have a great facebook page, GLOW Georgia. We have a not so great website which we’ll be rebuilding this fall. And we are working on rebranding GLOW as we are all in agreement that stick figure girls in dresses with hearts and a 1950 font GLOW doesn’t reflect what we want for our girls.
About that, if any of you are or know a graphic designer who might be interested in helping us (pro bono) with a new logo design, we’d be thrilled to have your help. We’ve actually put out a call for logo designs with a deadline of September 15. At our strategic planning meeting on September 27, we’ll be reviewing the submissions we have and, if we have enough, we’ll be sharing the top 3 choices with our GLOW community for them to vote on. So, if you or anyone you know is interested, feel free to contact me for more details. The logo will be used on our website, t-shirts, banners, and any other things we choose to slap the GLOW logo on. And of course, we will give credit where credit is due!
So, with GLOW camp behind us, I’m super excited about focusing on establishing a really strong foundation for the NGO. While camp was an amazing experience, truth be told, I’m not really a camp kind of girl. For me, I’ve always gotten much more excited about the organizational development opportunities with GLOW. So, coming soon, we hope to have interns, GLOW Ambassador trainings, and maybe a winter camp. And we’ll also be working on ways that we can broaden our funding beyond just granting institutions (read individual fundraising). On top of all of this, we have some amazing new PCVs on the GLOW team too. These kids got skillz! Here’s one piece of evidence – a video from the first GLOW camp. Really looking forward to the next 10 months with GLOW! (That’s right, only 10 more months in Georgia!)