Wow! It’s been a long time since I wrote my last blog post – about a month ago, on Thanksgiving, and now it’s only five days until Christmas. Despite all of the Christmas music (in English and Spanish) I’ve been playing on repeat, its hard to get into the holiday spirit when the humidity has you sweating through your sleeveless tank tops. The closest I’ll get to a white Christmas are the fluffy white clouds. But those are a welcome relief from the grey rainclouds that made daily appearances during the rainy season, when I first arrived in El Chaco. Now that it’s summertime, every day is like the perfect first day of summer: 75-80 degrees, with a slight breeze to cool you off. The only problem is the Goldilocks dilemma of reliable running water. Too dry, and there’s not enough rainwater collected, which means no water in the taps for a few days. Too much rain, and the systems get flooded, leading to plenty of water flooding the streets but none to flush your toilet.
I’m going to break up today’s blog posts into a few separate sections, so I can better focus on everything that I’ve been up to.
This one is a dedication to all things GLOW and BRO, or Peace Corps’ speak for Girls Leading Our World and Boys Leading Others. It’s a worldwide program tied to Peace Corps’ overarching gender initiative. Women’s empowerment and the feminist movement has always been a very important subject for me – in college, I was the president of Prytanean, the first women’s honor society, founded at UC Berkeley, and my sorority broke from our national organization to found our own local sorority, dedicated to the ideals of women’s empowerment, diversity, inclusivity, and courage. Here in Ecuador, volunteers from across Community Health, Youth and Families, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) teach charlas, organize weekly clubs and plan summer camps with their local counterparts to give women tools to take initiative in their own life, and set big goals for the future, while encouraging men to respect women as equals.
In rural parts of Ecuador, women earn an average of US$219/month to men’s US$293, despite working 23 hours more per week than men, on average, according to UN Women. I had the opportunity to sit down with a representative from UN Women during training, and the women I sat down with stressed their concern about domestic violence: 6 out of 10 women in Ecuador have experienced some kind of violence, and the women most vulnerable to violence are between 16-20 years of age. By teaching high school students of all genders about women’s rights, self esteem, and goal-setting for a better future, I hope to help the students in El Chaco to beat the statistics.
With two local counterparts’ help leading charlas and navigating cultural norms with me, I will be starting a co-ed club in the two local high schools for about 60 students ages 11-14. From January-May, we will discuss themes ranging from healthy relationships, gender roles, leadership, sexual education, life planning and self esteem in a safe space during weekly meetings. In July, five student leaders from each club will be invited to attend a five day, four night summer camp in Tena, the capital of our province. Four of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers are helping me plan this camp and bringing their own students as representatives of their communities. There, they will have the chance to meet peers from cities across the Amazon – Arosemena, Loreto and Puyo – and delve deeper into the same themes we’ve been discussing during our club. Following the camp, they will be trained student leaders, and together we will do open houses and mini summit day camps in the four main regions of our county to disperse the information across a wider group of young people in our community.
I am incredibly excited to embark on this project that is meaningful and prioritized not only by me, but also by my coworkers in the local community who believe this could help change students’ lives.