Camp UNITE [uni-tay…not unite] is a 4 week long summer camp for the youth of Togo. It is broken down per week by girl apprentices, boy apprentices, girl students, and boy students. During the week, the 30 or so apprentices or students go through a series of sessions, team building challenges, spurts of dancing and singing, and small discussion groups.
I just got back from the week long girl apprentices camp. IT WAS AMAZING! By far, it was my best week in Togo. I felt more accomplished and touched in this week alone then all my previous time in Togo. So what all did we do exactly? Here are all of the sessions the girls had:
- Self-Confidence and Influence of Friends: I lead this one along with my Togolese counterpart! We talked about self-confidence; what it is, how does one obtain it, why is it important, etc. My favorite activity had the girls each take a piece of paper and write “I can’t…” and then they would fill in the blanks of something they think they cannot do, or they are incapable of doing because it is too difficult. After that, we literally buried their papers of “I can’t” into the ground and shouted the phrase “Vouloir c’est Pouvoir”. This session was so great because all the girls heard, and maybe for the first time, that they all had value and were important.
- Gender Equity: During this session the girls learned about gender equity and why it is important. There are very strict gender roles here in Togo that limits the opportunities for a lot of girls. Girls have the responsibility of doing all domicile chores, which always will make it difficult for the girls to study. Girls are also told that they cannot become mechanics or carpenters because they are boys’ jobs. During gender equity, it was explained to the girls the difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’, how these gender roles get put into place, and what the girls can do to combat these roles.
- Introduction to Income Generating Activities: We explained what an Income Generating Activity is to the girls and why doing and IGA is important. So many girls cannot afford to go to school or apprenticeship, and many girls will turn to a form of prostitution or just drop out. Another option is an IGA, such as making liquid soap, tofu, popcorn, lotion, jam, etc.
- Importance of Girls Education: This session was a tricky one since we were talking to girl apprentices who had already abandoned their studies; however it was extremely useful to talk to the girls about why it is important to send their own daughters to school and what they can do themselves to continue their education.
- Relationships, Abstinence, and Family Planning: During this session, my friend Danny went through the different kinds of relationships there are; acquaintances, friendship, and intimate. A big family is very desirable in Togo; however it isn’t always looked at through an economic perspective. Danny did an activity where two couples were each placed into a ‘house’ a square made out of masking tape on the floor. We went through the scenario where one family practiced family planning while the other did not. Eventually the house got more and more crowded with the family that did not practice family planning and it was more and more difficult to adequately share the ‘food’ (cookies that Danny had brought). At the end of the session, all the various forms of birth control available in Togo were introduced to the girls and a health agent from the local hospital was there to answer questions.
- Adolescence and Puberty: So puberty is a pretty taboo subject in Togo and doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. So many girls don’t know what will happen, what is happening, or even what happened to their bodies during puberty. My friend Megan went through this session and explained the changes girls and boys both go through, lead a “true” or “false” game with certain myths about puberty, and lead the girls through a walk through vagina. The walk through vagina was built by a couple volunteers and allowed the girls to follow the path of an egg through the fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina. So informative!
- Child Trafficking: This is a pretty important topic in Togo as many children are sent each year to Nigeria for either hard labor or prostitution. Nigerians often come through Togo convincing parents to let them take their children to Nigeria by promising a better life and a lot money. The kids travel in terrible conditions to Nigeria, get abused for years, and come back an abysmal amount of money. During this session, we had some girls give testimonies about their experiences with Child Trafficking and what the other girls can do to combat it. (Like Income Generating Activities!)
- Sexual Harassment: Karen led this session and did a great job of explaining what sexual harassment is. Harassment is frequent in Togo, almost to a point of normality, unfortunately. This session went through and explained to the girls at what moment an action passes the limit and becomes harassment, how to recognize when they are being harassed and what they can do to stop it. The girls practiced saying “NO” (avec la force!), something a lot of the girls had never known to do before.
- HIV/AIDS: This session was to explain HIV/AIDS, how one becomes infected, what is happening to one’s body when they have it, and what they can do to protect themselves. We played a game of “true” and “false” with the myths of AIDS. We also showed the girls how to properly use a condom.
- IGA-Marketing: I lead this one too! We talked about the different points of marketing, the importance of treating the client like king and taught them how to make popcorn!
- IGA-Feasibility Study: Megan went through this one and taught the girls how to do a feasibility study and how to make Neem lotion.
- Time/Money management: This went through the different ways girls can plan their time and manage their money.
On the last day of camp, the girls paraded around a neighboring village. At the end of their parade, they performed traditional dances (super interesting as the girls are from all 5 regions of Togo, each ethnicity with their own dance) and went through 2 sketches that portrayed the importance of getting tested for HIV/AIDS and the importance of girls’ education.
All in all, this camp had a huge impact on all the girls that participated and even me. We are still raising money for the students camp so if you have the means, I’d really appreciate donations!