A Good Dose of Female Empowerment

This past week was the 7th Annual GLOW Conference in Samoa, a conference held to each year to help young girls and women in Samoan schools become future leaders. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and is an international initiative often led by Peace Corps volunteers. In Samoa, we focus on careers and education, healthy bodies and minds, and ending violence against women, and our conference days centered around these main themes. It is a combination of lectures, activities, and field trips that expose these young ladies to new opportunities and ideas. We also invite Samoan women leaders to come and speak to the girls and share their stories.

Last year I was unable to attend, but this year I got to be a part of a magical week with these girls from all over Samoa, and it was a highlight of my service.

Our first day was both the travel day and the icebreaker day. Some of these girls had never been so far from their village and were surrounded by many new people and girls their own age, girls they may never have met if it weren’t for the conference so it was important to break the ice. The newly crowned Miss Samoa came to speak to them and we had many group activities to shake things up for them; we played musical chairs, designed outfits out of recyable materials and held a fashion show, a judo lesson, and had team building exercises. It was only an afternoon but it was a great start to the conference.

Our first full days was centered on the theme of careers and education. We took the girls on a field trip in the morning to the National University of Samoa and APTC, an Australian based trade school. The idea was to get the girls to think outside of gender norm careers in Samoa and consider trades as not just a boy’s job, but something girls could do as well or even better.

One of my favorite parts was when NUS had a young Samoan woman speak to the girls about why she chose the trades path; she had gone into carpentry and joinery. She discussed all of the obstacles she faced on her path both socially and personally, and shared how she had excelled in her field to become a leader in her program. She finished her speech with “to make a difference, you have to be different.” All the chills.

APTC was an eye opening experience for the girls because they got to speak with no just Samoan women, but other Pacific Island women who had gone into trades. There were women from Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu who shared their stories. They had gone into trades such as plumbing, welding, and food science.

The rest of the day, we had sessions with community female leaders, women who had started their own companies or led in other capacities. It was a busy day that ended with a trip to the cinema to see Small Foot, and for some of the girls it was their first time in a movie theater.

The next day was based on the theme of healthy bodies and minds. We had the Red Cross and another health organization come and lead sessions in the morning, along with a kickboxing lesson. The afternoon half of the day was all about getting the girls active and moving. We tie dyed our conference T-shirts, did yoga, and swam in a pool. It was a fun afternoon that wore everyone out in the best way.

Then in the early evening, a company came and led educational sessions on menstrual health, a subject that is not usually taught effectively because of cultural reasons. The girls learned a lot and also received reusable pads to take home. The girls were so excited about them and wouldn’t let them out of their sight.

That night was one of my favorite parts of the whole week. We had eaten dinner when music started to play and within minutes everyone was dancing; volunteers, teachers, and girls all mingled together to dance it out and just celebrate our time together. I had been so busy during the conference helping or taking photos, that I hadn’t gotten a chance to really hang with the girls, but that dance party changed that.

The last day was about ending violence against women. The girls did skits and role playing activities to learn what to do in violent situations, and also how not to perpetuate violence.

Afterwards, was our awards ceremony and then it was time to go home. The conference had flown by and most of the girls weren’t ready to leave or say goodbye to their new friends. Everyday they had reflected and answered questions, written what they had learned for that day. Right after the awards I had a chance to read some of them and how much they were taking away from this conference blew me away.

I had a moment on the last day where my counterpart, a teacher from my school who attended the conference with my girls, told me her plans for when we go back to school. She is going to have the girls who attended present what they learned to the whole school on Monday and then in more detail to their respective classes. And then on Wednesday she will have the girls separately share what they learned about menstrual health with the older girls at our school. And that, sharing female empowerment, is what the conference was all about.

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