Counselor Training Day 1!

By: Allison Gross

While laughing through the warm up exercises, I almost forgot how heavy the content we are trying to deliver.  As we work through the material more and more with owners and counselors, we are finding new questions and challenges that we never considered before.  The day of training was an interesting mix of fun, lighthearted activities with deep, though provoking discussion.  Ideally, this is a model of how the camp will go as well.  We are anxiously waiting to see if this still goes smoothly when you add teachers and students into the mix.

The day started off with lighthearted introductions, and a name game warm up that started to introduce counselors to each other as well as to the activities that they’ll be teaching throughout the camp.  The counselors range from young women working through their college courses, to highly experienced women that have raised girls of their own, all selected for their unique experiences and outgoing personalities.  After a fun start, the day became more focused with an explanation of the affordable schools that the counselors will be working in, since they are joining the schools as an outsider and need to be familiar with the characteristics of teachers and students that they will work with.

As we started talking about camp and structure, our first activity came to GIRL CODE.  At the start of camp the campers will work together to come up with the rules for their camp, and are all responsible for making sure that everyone follows these.  We mimicked this exercise with the counselors and had them come up with their own rules for training.  As we started a discussion, counselors brought up that girls are not always looking out for each other.  It is often girls that are perpetuating negative gossip about each other or sharing secrets that have been told to her in confidence.  We started listing out ways that we can be more respectful to each other and trust each other.  The Girl Code started with being on time, being a good and active listener, always being empathic, and giving everyone a chance to speak without being interrupted.  The number one rule was inspired by vegas: “what happens in camp, stays in camp.”  The success of the camp undoubtedly relies on building a safe, productive environment.  If the girls don’t feel safe to open up and share they’re experiences the activities won’t be as valuable and discussion based learning will not be effective.

The day continued with sessions that went through improvisational dancing activity designed to have girls let go of any negative experiences and allow themselves to grow stronger from them.  In a circle, we all went around sharing the experiences we’ve had and how we’ve grown from them.  There was a change in the atmosphere after this exercise, as we all opened up to new people and allowed some of our barriers to come down.  This trust builds a strong bond, even in a group that you’ve just met, and left me thinking of how powerful this exercise could be in bringing together a group of adolescence.

We ended the day with an introduction to differences between men and women through a body mapping exercise.  We identified all the different parts of the body as well as stereotypical characteristics associated with girls and boys.  There were disagreements in words like shallow/materialistic – some feeling that men can be much more appearance focused than women. Others noted differences in expectation about women being more reserved and modest, where men are meant to demonstrate masculinity and power, and what society thinks if you don’t follow these prescribed roles.  It was most interesting to me to hear about the impact that media here has on maintaining these societal norms, and the types of characters common in serials that all the girls watch.

At the end of the first day, the excitement from the counselors was invigorating and there was so much mutual learning.  A lot of girls issues were brought up and set the stage for the start of an amazing summer.  I can’t wait to go forward with the next days of training!

Maximized Productvity

By: Ilana Shushansky

Over the past few weeks I have found that doing a project on such a short timeline has certain productivity advantages.  Because almost everything is a priority and has to get done now, the end of each day tends to come with a major accomplishment or task checked off the master project list.  Last week initial interviews were conducted for camp counselors and the camp, enrollment forms were translated into 2 languages, the camp itself was introduced to every girl in grades 6-9 at all eleven schools, and parents meetings to create parent buy-in began.  This week camper enrollment forms were handed out to over 1500 students, counselors were formally interviewed, selected, and assigned to specific schools, and we have had our first 50 girls enroll to attend camp at two different schools…and it is only Wednesday!  The end of this week will be heavily focused on curriculum development, as we also continue to be educated about the issues the girls in our schools, and India, are really facing.  And despite that Hyderabad’s summer heat makes even the simplest tasks exhausting, the excitement and energy of the girls, teachers, and school owners towards camp are like a burst of energy each day.

This afternoon the in-charge at my school, Rachel, sat me down to plead.  The school that I have been working at all year has two branches; Kismathpur, which has about 800 students from nursery to Class 10, and Dargah, which has only 350 students from nursery to Class 7.  Because I work mainly at Dargah, even though they are younger, I wanted the girls there to be involved in camp.  I told the older girls about the program and that we could have 25 Dargah girls and 25 Kismathpur girls enroll, figuring I would get maybe 10 girls.  I was out of town last week and when I returned already 27 girls from Dargah had returned their enrollment forms and fees, and the English teacher organizing the effort on my behalf showed me at least 5 more girls on the list.  Knowing that I given Dargah a cap of 25, this is when Rachel came to me.  She explained how excited all the girls were to attend camp and how excited their parents were as well (they conducted a parents meeting last week in which all parents were told about the project).   Rachel convinced me that the Dargah girls were large enough in numbers and committed enough to have their own camp, so that I would not turn anyone away.  If you return the fees and disallow any one girl, her parents will come and complain to me…why have you not taken my child…so you should take all girls from here. 

And the same thing is happening across the board.  While at first we were nervous about reaching our target enrollment, now we are emotionally struggling with having to turn girls away.  It is an extremely positive sign for the future of Camp VOICE, however, to know that just the idea behind our camp, without actually knowing what it runs like, is demanded enough to have to turn girls away in the pilot year.   

Spreading the Word

By: Allison Gross

When we initially went around to the schools to collect information for our grant about the interest and viability of a girls camp, we had to try to tame the excitement since we weren’t sure if it would really work out.  As we lay the plans now, I was excited that the time had come to tell the girls all about the camp and how they can sign up.

The sea of girls kept moving in closer and closer, the excitement rising and rising as i went from class to class to introduce the camp to everyone once and for all. I was bombarded with questions from everything from what we will be doing to what they can wear.  The announcement that uniforms were not required got the most stir, but they were also so excited to hear that it was a special program just for girls.  Yet soon they were putting two and two together that not every girl would be able to participate since we have put the limit at 50 girls a school.  The other tough part was having all the boys come up asking why they can’t participate.

Now we have to see if the parents will be as quick to accept the concept as the girls.  The next step is sending home handouts about the camp with sign up sheets so we can get their parents consent to participate.  Its hard to predict how parents will react.  On one hand, this is an English immersion program being offered to the girls for free, but we need to make sure they do understand that we will be talking about more sensitive gender issues specific to girls and this may bring about a different response.  If the parents are all okay with the content, we will have the next difficult question of how do we select the girls to participate?

Beyond our own schools, we have been spreading the word to local Universities to attract potential counselors in order to recruit the right young women to run each of the camps.  This is a tough bill to fit, because you need excellent English skills and women who are somewhat empowered themselves.  Openness and creativity are also important qualities to have.  We are optimistic we can find the right group and in a couple weeks of training they will be more then equipped to lead the camp smoothly.  The more people we tell, the more exciting and real this is becoming.  It can be hard at times but overall the ability to bring our idea into reality is such a privilege that we are doing everything in our power to lay the groundwork in order to make this camp a huge success!