I’m a big fan of the Peace Corps, and I enjoy hearing about the great work that volunteers are doing around the world. In chatting with a Peace Corps friend recently, I learned that Camp GLOW has reached Samoa’s shores. GLOW stands for “Girls Leading our World,” and the initiative is intended to help build self confidence and challenge campers to think beyond traditional gender roles.

Campers enjoying an ice-breaker to start the day.

Apia GLOW campers enjoy an ice-breaker to start the day.

The first Camp GLOW was held in 1995 when Peace Corps volunteers and local teachers in Romania spent a day together addressing the particular challenges that local girls and young women were facing. The girls and everyone else involved considered the gathering a big success, and word of the model spread. Since then, Peace Corps volunteers elsewhere have run Camp GLOW programs for thousands of young women in more than 60 countries.

National University of Samoa Faculty of Education Lecturer and Powerlifter Fila Fuamatu and Manu Sina Women’s Rugby Assistant Coach and St’ Josephs PE Teacher Filoi Eneliko show the girls that it’s cool to be strong and athletic.

A break-out session with National University of Samoa lecturer and powerlifter Fila Fuamatu and Manu Sina Women’s Rugby Assistant Coach Filoi Eneliko.

In Apia, a team of local Peace Corps folks in partnership with UN Women assembled a group of 50 dynamic young female students from school years 7 & 8 for a daylong conference led by successful Samoan women professionals. There were career panel discussions, a leadership workshop, small group sessions about health and sports, and a short dramatic performance. The girls were encouraged to speak out about the challenges they face and how to overcome them. 

Girls learning about the fun of exercise in front of the Government Building.

Filoi Eneliko teaches the girls about the importance (and fun) of exercise.

Organizing committee member and Peace Corps volunteer Karen Corey explained to me that the first Camp GLOW in Apia had two main goals: “First, we wanted to expose the young women to different careers and career paths so they could see how women got to where they are today. Second, we wanted to provide the campers with knowledge and information that could be useful in the future to help them overcome obstacles and reach their goals.”

Satitoa Primary School girls showing off their Camp Glow t-shirts and certificates with their Peace Corps Volunteer Danny Butterfoss.

Campers from Satitoa Primary School show off their Camp Glow t-shirts and certificates with their Peace Corps volunteer Danny Butterfoss.

Karen was very pleased — but not at all surprised — by the high quality of the presentations and the high level of interactive engagement by the campers. I’m told that particularly useful and dynamic were goal-setting exercises at the end of the day, as well as a session in which the girls prepared presentations about the day’s discussions and lessons to give to other female students when they returned to their respective schools.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton speaking at Camp GLOW in Malawi, August 5, 2012.

Secretary Clinton at Camp GLOW in Malawi.

At the heart of the Camp GLOW initiative are the imperatives of promoting women’s empowerment and cultivating the potential of young women to be future leaders in their communities.

The model is easily adapted to local needs and circumstances. In some places the camps are one-day events. In other places they have grown into a full week of learning, skills-building, and fun. Boys as well as girls have been included.

The most powerful common element, however, is bringing young women and girls into direct contact with successful female role-models from their own locales and cultures. Sometimes there is even a special guest from overseas, as when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at Camp GLOW Malawi in August.

If you are interested in learning about different approaches to Camp GLOW employed in other locations, you can take a look at blog posts written by participants in camps held in Burkina Faso recently and in Macedonia a couple of years ago.

I could not be more proud of our Peace Corps team in Samoa for organizing and running Camp GLOW Apia. I’m glad that local media covered the event and gave the girls the encouraging visibility that they deserve. Plus, I was particularly pleased to hear that the volunteers and UN Women are planning to institutionalize the Camp and expand to Savaii.

From everything I’ve seen and heard, it’s clear to me that this year’s event is the start of something exciting. I am very much looking forward to Camp GLOW Samoa 2013, and to seeing what the future holds for the campers who participated this year and who come through the program in the years ahead.

Malo lava tama’ita’i ma teine Samoa.