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Saturday, December 15, 2012


I recently got to work at another youth development camp, Camp B.U.I.L.D. (Boys in Uganda in Leadership Development). This camp focused on instilling and fostering leadership skills and extinguishing gender roles, promoting gender equality in young boys (a very different experience compared to working with girls). This camp ended up being a tremendous opportunity to mold the future leaders of Uganda and show them what a strong female looked like and that she could be a role model for young boys too. 

At the camp, I was one of two female counselors. It was a tremendous honor to be chosen as one of the only female counselors because it really gave me a chance to get to know the young campers and really have an impact in a more direct way. Having been staff at previous camps, I understand the limited role one can play as staff, but as a counselor you have a much more direct and personal relationship with your campers because you have to be with them all day. Honestly, I think having female counselors as well as male counselors is a huge step forward and should be taken into consideration for all youth camps. It isn’t to say that youth development camps should focus on which gender is guiding which, but both genders should be given equal opportunity to work in such a capacity. Without gender equality there is no empowerment. 

At B.U.I.L.D. I was the counselor for the group ‘Radio & Weasel’ (each camper group was named after a Ugandan musical group, like Seal Paul, Coco Finger, Bobi Wine, Sean Kingston, Konshens, Bebe Cool Jose Chameleone, Eddy Kenzo, and Demarco). I had eight boys ranging from the age of 11 to the age of 17. Each had strong personalities and it was interesting to see how they interacted with one another (especially the change in the interactions as the week progressed). The younger boys were much quieter and less interested in playing in the week long football tournament, which made me feel bad (I felt even worse when I realized all the campers weren’t going to be able to play because they had a set number of players for each team which was less than the number of campers in total and the counselors were allowed to play if they wanted, which would take the spot of a potential camper playing). At least having the two younger boys uninterested made it easy to decide who from my group would be playing, especially since my co-counselor wanted to play. 

Radio & Weasel being a little silly (Photo by Jim Tanton, PCV [])

During the camp, there were various sessions including water and sanitation, nutrition, alcoholism, volcanoes, income-generating activities, team building skills, goals setting, money management, HIV/AIDS, male/female reproductive health, sexual health, malaria, gender roles, domestic violence, and bottle rockets. Initially I was supposed to teach water and sanitation but given it was to be taught on the first day of the week it was decided I would teach gender roles later on in the week in order to be able to spend more of the beginning of the week with my camper group. Throughout the sessions I could really see the change in the boys, even on the first day, from the beginning to the end, the boys were becoming more and more involved in discussions and more participatory in the sessions. By the end of the week many of the discussions were driven by the boys themselves and many of the counselors and staff merely observed and guided the conversation rather than tried to keep it going. During the free time, counselor groups had a chance to do team building activities which were great. The only problem I had with that activity was that it created a further sense of competition between the camper groups and it seemed like so many groups were doing the activities to get points and to have the most points rather than to actually build their camper group as a team.  I decided rather than push my boys to complete the most activities, I let them pick and choose which ones they were interested in doing. By the end of the week, however, when they realized it was a competition, they were rushing to get as many done as possible just to be the winners. I am glad I did this whole activity the way I did because I think the boys got a lot more out of it, at least in the beginning of the week. The activities they did at the beginning of the week really seemed to pull them together as a team and I definitely saw less wandering from them. Instead of trying to get away to be with their friends they were interested in doing things together as a group.

One boy in my group particularly stood out. He was one of the younger boys in the group and at the beginning of the week was really shy and wandered off quite a bit. I was worried I would lose him and that he wouldn’t get anything out of the camp, but by the end of the week he was our champion. He began to participate more and more with each day and was much more participatory in the sessions. He didn’t automatically sit in the back of the class after the first day and he was really receptive to me when I would reprimand the group for not following the rules (which happened a couple times, surprisingly). 

At the end of the week I was scheduled to teach gender roles, which I thought would be both potentially awesome and potentially dreadful. I thought it had the potential to be awesome because it gave me a chance to break any stereotypes and really illustrate that women can do things men can do. At the same time, I had the feeling it could be dreadful because some of these boys have very strong personalities and I thought it would be difficult to change their minds (and indeed in some cases it was). In the end, I only taught one session and it ended up going smoothly. Most of the boys already had the idea of what a gender role was compare to what genders were physically capable of doing. At the same time, it often seemed like the boys were saying what they knew I wanted to hear but may not have been saying something that they truly agreed with. I figured, if this was the case, at least they had some idea what gender equality should be and that was a step in the right direction. There was one student would was very headstrong about girls not being able to do certain jobs and it became very difficult trying to explain to him that women were physically capable of doing those jobs, they just may not have the skills or knowledge to do them. 

After my single session of gender roles I was switched to bottle rockets, were I helped another PCV teach. We explain the four principles of flight (can you name them?). After explaining these principles, we demonstrated how the different designs of bottle rockets shot as well as how the bottle rockets launched with various amounts of “fuel” (we used water). It was awesome to see how, from the first session I taught to the last, the boys got really into the designing and launching. They really seemed to notice the differences based on design and weight of the rockets. At the same time, compared to my bottle rockets experience at GirlTech, the boys were less shy regarding the launching device. During the first session I taught the boys came right up the device and were trying to fiddle with it, worrying me because it could break. At the same time, when I was launching the rockets, the boys were standing really close to the device. I had to force them to move away because there was  a chance the bottles could explode due to the pressure. After the kinks of the first session we got it solid and by the last session everyone was having such a good time we let the boys launch their bottle rockets over and over again (as a reward for cleaning the area as well as being enthusiastic about it).

In the middle of the week we had a performance group, called Rafiki Theater, come do a drama on tribalism in Uganda. The group showed different situations where individuals were being discriminated based on their tribe. It was interesting to see how the boys reacted to the drama. Many laughed at very inappropriate times, like when one woman was telling her story of how she was raped because she was from a certain tribe. I wasn’t really sure why the boys were laughing and when we asked them they didn’t really give an explanation, simply saying that it was because of something someone said or that they related because the police weren’t helping in that situation. It was also frustrating because some of the boys weren’t taking the drama seriously, even my boys. They didn’t seem to be paying attention and then during the reflection time they were chatting with each other but not about the drama. I had to force my boys to write down things they learned or felt during the drama and we discussed it later on our own. This really helped in the end because when we made our team flag, the design reflected an end to tribalism, promoting one Uganda.
Radio & Weasel's team flag: Ending tribalism one star at a time!

By the end of the week I was completely exhausted but I am very thankful I got to participate in this camp. Not only was I able to make a direct impact on young boys, but I got to know some Ugandan counselors really well as well as some new PCVs. I am glad I got to meet some really influential and impactful Ugandans and to see that they were fighting for the same kind of gender equality I am. They are the epitome of the right example for these boys and I hope they continue to promote these ideals.

In the end, we have to be the change we want to see in this world and by working this camp, by showing these young boys that women are strong, capable, and can be leaders, I feel like I was that change. It may not happen overnight, it may not happen in a year, but the wheels are turning and gender discrimination end, gender roles will be destroyed, and these boys will be the actors in this process.