On Tuesday night, we all slept very well and instead of getting up very early the next morning, many of the girls didn’t want to get out of bed when I turned the lights on and woke them up at 6:00am. In fact, many of the girls stayed in bed until 6:30am, thirty minutes before breakfast.
Wednesday’s topic was health and was held in the dining room of the place we were staying at. Two female doctors spent the entire morning discussing health topics including nutrition, HIV prevention, and sexual health with the girls. The graphic photos of STDs, as well as the discussion about early pregnancy, really made the girls realize the importance of practicing safe sex. The girls got to practice using condoms on wooden penises and although some of the girls were a bit shy at first, they warmed up and learned how to properly use the condoms. This is especially important, as sexual education is something that many students don’t learn about, even though it is in the National Curriculum. According to my counterpart, the reason for this is that many of the teachers are too shy to actually teach this lesson to their students.
The girls asked tons of questions and really paid attention to the new information that was being shared with them. After lunch, we also covered dental hygiene and malaria prevention with the girls. We played a game where the counterparts asked the girls questions from the health session and the girl who answered correctly got a prize. It was fun and showed us that the girls really got a lot out of the session.
On Thursday, we were supposed to visit Ankatso, the university in Tana, but there was a strike going on there. Since it was not safe for us to visit the university, we met some current university students in a park where they shared their stories with the girls. The students not only shared their personal stories and struggles, but also gave the girls advice and answered their questions about university life. After breaking up into smaller groups where the girls got to talk one-on-one with the university students, we drove up the hill to check out the view of Tana. Of course we took a bunch of photos, many of which I posted on Facebook. We thanked the university students with a song that one of the counterparts had taught the girls and headed back to Rovan’ny Tovovavy for lunch.
In the afternoon, we visited the EducationUSA office, where the girls learned about studying in the USA. Being in the EducationUSA office felt a lot like being in a college counseling office with flags from different American universities on the walls and tons of books about attending university, getting scholarships, and taking exams such as the SAT. I was surprised by a 2013 statistic that was shared with us. Out of the 692,000 international students in the US, 30,858 were from Africa and only 124 were from Madagascar. Many of the girls were very interested in studying in America and I think that about 5 of the girls in our group really have the potential (dedication and English skills) to study in America if they want to.
One of the girls who expressed a great interest in attending university in America is Innocente. She is one of the girls that I brought from Tanambe and is an extremely bright, open-minded, spirited girl who wants to be a journalist. As long as she continues to study hard, I think that Innocent could really end up at an American university in a few years. Since getting to know her better during the camp, I have taken Innocente under my wing and she has been my assistant for my current month-long English Courses in Tanambe. In addition to helping me with the English Courses, Innocente frequently comes over to my house to practice typing and using Microsoft Word on my laptop and we always end up chatting away in English and having a great time together. I have already told Innocente that once I leave Tanambe, I want to stay in touch with her and provide her with any help that I can to help her achieve her dreams. She was so grateful and happy to hear this!
On Friday, we began the day by walking around downtown Tana and visiting ORTANA, the regional tourism office. The girls learned what it takes to be a tour guide and how they could get into the tourism field. After checking out huge maps of Tana, we made our way to TVM (Television Malagasy). The building which TVM, as well as Malagasy National Radio, is housed in was not very impressive, but going into the studios was awesome. We got to see how the radio station works and watched as a woman gave a live news update. We also got to visit the TVM studio, which the girls had previously seen on television. Of course each girl wanted her photo taken in front of the Tana backdrop that is seen in the news reports and I had the privilege of taking all those photos! The girls were in shock and so happy to meet some of the women who tell stories on Malagasy National Radio before leaving the building.
In the afternoon, I stayed behind to put together a slide show of photos that I had taken during the camp and to print certificates, while the girls went souvenir shopping. My Tanambe girls were so sweet and bought a necklace for me during their shopping adventures. When the girls returned, we discussed how they could share their new knowledge and skills with their peers, friends, and communities. The girls had some great ideas about how to share what they had learned with others. One of the girls mentioned that she was not a very well behaved young lady and the camp had taught her a lot and she realized that she needed to get her act together and encourage her friends to do the same. Watching the girls grow, learn, and experience new things during the camp brought me much joy and hearing the girls talk about how they could educate others after the camp ended made me realize that this camp was not only having a huge effect on the girls who attended the camp, but that it would also have a huge impact on the girls’ communities.
That evening, after our final meal at Rovan’ny Tovovavy, we had a talent show in the dormitory. The girls danced and sang and Denis performed some karate. After the talent show, I had the girls participate in an activity that had gone really well at the Mini Camp in Tanambe. I wrote each girl’s name (and the counterpart’s names too) on a piece of paper and asked the girls to write something nice about each of the other girls. The girls really got into the exercise and wrote some very sweet and heartwarming things about each other. I decorated each paper with pretty stickers that my mother had sent to add some color. It was cute to watch the girls when they received their completed papers, as many of them just sat on their beds reading all of the nice things that the other girls and counterparts had written about her. You could see many of the girls’ faces light up. In fact, my face lit up when I read all the sweet words that the girls wrote about me. It is definitely something I will always treasure.
On that last night, a bunch of the girls pushed their beds together and slept together. It had been an amazing week full of lots of new experiences, new knowledge, and new friendships and many of the girls were sad that the camp was coming to an end. Although it had been a long, tiring week and I was in much need of a day’s worth of sleep, I too was sad that the camp was ending. I had gotten to know the girls so well and I enjoyed spending time with them, talking with them, laughing with them, and watching them ask questions and learn new things.
We left Rova’ny Tovovavy early on Saturday morning to head back to the Alaotra-Mangoro region. As the girls sang on the taxi-brousse, I sat there thinking about how amazing the camp was and how lucky I was to be apart of such an incredible experience for these 21 girls and 5 Malagasy counterparts.