As I wrote in my blog post “Reflection on Let Girls Learn in my Community” most of my work during my first year of service at the dar shebab (youth center) benefitted boys. Girls face many obstacles to achieving their high school diploma in my community like housework, different expectations, and few role models of educated, working women. I’ve devoted more time to focus on work with girls during my last few months of service. I helped a muatira (counselor), Noura, to start the Life skills and leadership program at the dar taliba (girls dormitory) and a friend and university student, Chaimae, to establish a Girl’s Club at the new markaz jadema alshebab (youth vocational center).
Life skills at the girls dormitory
The girls dormitory is for girls aged 12 to 18 from the duars (farming villages) outside of town where there are no middle and high schools. They pay a small fee for room and board at the girls dormitory during the week and study at the middle and high school in town. There are three counselors that supervise their days, mostly checking attendance to classes, and monitoring mealtimes and study halls. The counselors do not plan many extracurricular activities as the girls need to focus their time and effort on achieving good grades to stay in school. During my first year I helped girls with their English homework and study skills.
When an opportunity to attend a Life Skills and Leadership workshop became available, I mentioned it to the Mudira (Director) , and she agreed that it would be a valuable extracurricular activity. She had heard about the success of the program at the youth center. Thus, I invited counselor, Noura, to attend a Peace Corps training workshop on how to facilitate the program.
We finally started the Program in December, and it’s been going great! We decided to focus on 7th and 8th grade girls, 12-14 year olds. They are the newcomers to the dorm life and according to Noura need skills like self-confidence, choosing positive values, and goal setting. About 20 girls participate in the Program.
Noura is very organized and a strong leader, a reflection on her nearly five years work experience as a counselor. Noura usually plans and implements the Program on her own. I have attended sessions to observe and encourage her and the girls. If she has any questions about the curriculum, I review it with her. This is an ideal partnership as she’ll be continue with this work after my service ends this month. Noura says she has already seen the impact of the life skills and leadership in the growing confidence the girls show! And, they are sharing what they’ve learned in the sessions with their schoolmates.
Girls Club at the youth vocational center
I was worried when the new youth vocational center opened that it would become a boys space like the youth center, but girls have actually been attending activities there! They say they feel comfortable going to the youth vocational center, because it is in the center of town. They even stay and walk home after dark!
In October, I helped a friend and university student, Chaimae, start a Girls Club at the new youth vocational center. The intention was to create a safe space for girls. At the beginning, we gathered the already registered girls at the youth vocational center, mostly high schoolers, to learn what they were interested in doing in the Club. They wanted to discuss topics related to school, relationships, and health; practice sports; and take field trips.
The Girls Club has ended up being sort of a peer group session with 15 girls that attend meetings every week. The girls like having a space just for them, and I’ve also observed how the teenagers look up to the university students. Chaimae and her friends are always willing to offer advice on various subjects. My role has mostly been to support and encourage Chaimae with organizational and leadership skills and to provide resources, like books from the Peace Corps library on activities.
I am glad that I was able to focus some of work on girls during my last months of service- teaching important life skills and creating a safe space for girls- and also encouraging female volunteerism through Noura and Chaimae. At the youth vocational center, there are a couple other new female volunteers teaching English, French, and computer classes! I really like to see girls involved in mentoring and teaching new skills to youth! I like to imagine that I have had some influence on this and only hope that it will be sustained!