I realize this story is coming to some of you late in the game, after all, a lot of you heard about this from me while I was spending time at home, but now you get to hear even more specifics of the great things we did, and we all know you want that!
The women’s conference was amazing! Most of the young ladies that we took were between the ages of 14 and 21, they were all still in Secondary School (high school), and many of them (from my village at least, we’re all in the bush!) had never been to the big “city” before, it was excited just to take the death defying ride on the open bed truck to get there (and I’m not kidding about death defying, they are training new drivers, and on one particular ride I heard the driver, while on the phone going a ridiculous pace on a dirt road, complaining about how there was no brake fluid in the car, luckily there is still no working speedometer, so at least I can pretend that we are cruising at a normal pace). The ladies all arrived and were immediately introduced to the wonderful world of women’s empowerment, which of course included some rules (peace and love, behave, and Luke (the only male volunteer) is a girl) and then a lot of practice with assertiveness and HIV/AIDS training.
My favorite parts of the conference were the amount of times we spent teaching the girls about condom use, and trying to break any myths surrounding them. This included me pouring tea into a condom and sealing it, to prove that there were no “holes”, me dressing the elbow of another volunteer to show that even those well in endowed be able to fit, and me bringing 12,000 condoms for the girls to practice with. This may be excessive, but in my defense, Laura, another volunteer, told me to go to the hospital and pick up two boxes of condoms for use. She didn’t tell me (because she didn’t know) that there were two different sizes of boxes, 100 and 6000. I picked up the 12,000 just to be on the safe side. Though this was the cause of looks of shock (or utter non-surprise as Lindsey reminded Laura that I needed “special directions”) and giggles throughout the conference. To make up for it, I had the best penis models to be used by the girls, carved by my expert carver, who did a wonderful job making them according to my instructions (those instructions were “make them like yours”).
Aside from condom use, the girls learned a great deal about assertiveness, which they got to experience first hand when one of the cooks tried to steal from us and then demanded money. Though my girls were used to “Mwalimu’s kali (my temper) the cook was not, and the rest of the girls got to see first hand what that assertiveness looks like, complete with creative English (the cook claimed to be an English teacher, I was merely testing her vocabulary) words.
The games, talent show, and random sighs of “when are we coming back to learn again” made all 4 of us volunteers feel that the training was a great success. The post test at the end of the seminar was filled with complete and much more in detail answers that the pre test, and all of the girls left with huge grins on their faces. I wish derailing the AIDS grip in Africa was as easy as taking 33 girls and teaching them how to protect themselves through learning and games, but we still have a long road to hoe, especially with our next plan: a boys conference (the one big difference being the allocation of aspirin in the budget)!
More conferences are sure to be planned, and I can only hope that they will be as wonderful as this one!