Girls Leading Our World
After months of planning, all the pieces, presenters, and presentations lined up and we successfully put on the first GLOW conference in Samoa. Since this is our first attempt, we started small – only one day, length determined by bus schedules, with a fairly simple program so that we could easily improvise if need be – but the result was an amazing conference that everyone loved and everyone wants to do again.
The day started off slowly. PCVs and their students trickled in as morning buses arrived (mine was the second to get there so my students had a long time to wait). The girls sat shyly in their school groups, watching a movie without sound because we couldn’t find the right cord to get the sound going. When all the PCVs arrived, we sent the girls out to play a few quick games while the rest of us set out the morning tea (breakfast). Then our first round of presenters showed up, and everything got moving. Tea, presentations, break, more presentations. First up was the career panel, with four different women talking about a day in the life at their particular profession, and how they got to where they are. After the career panel, there was a presentation on leadership and the importance of staying in school. The statistics about the dropout rate in Samoa are astounding – I can’t remember them exactly now, but it was shockingly high, something like almost half of students who start primary school in Samoa don’t complete their secondary school. Then we had a quick break for lunch, which included a dramatic performance from one of the performing arts professors at the National University of Samoa. The afternoon was split up into three rotating sessions. We had one group of girls outside the conference room on the balcony doing a vision and goal-setting activity, one group inside the conference room addressing girly issues and the risks of HIV, and one out on the playground area for games. Then we all reconvened, had some pizza, said our thank-yous and good-byes, then we all headed out.
The most amazing part of the conference was how it gained momentum as it got closer. First it started out as just two PCVs planning the entire day, and then two more of us joined the original two. As it got closer and we were looking for people to go with specific presentations we had planned, more people became interested in the conference. The biggest boost came when UN Women contacted us because they had heard about our program. They offered financial support which allowed us to give all the participants swag – something we had in mind but hadn’t budgeted for in our original fundraising because it wasn’t considered a necessary expense (renting a conference room gets a little higher priority in the budget than keychains). They also expressed interest in partnering with PCVs again in the future to expand the program and take it to both Upolu and Savai’i. On the day of the event, TV 3 (or was it TV 1 – one of the big stations in Samoa) showed up to take footage and do interviews. I heard from my students that they saw me on the news.
The other most amazing part of the conference was how excited everyone was about it. Peace Corps’ were obviously excited because it’s a project coming to fruition. The life of a PCV is basically finding a million ways to fail at different projects, but every once in a while you hit a gem that actually turns into a successful project. If you’re really lucky, it’s a large scale project that impacts communities around the country. I think it’s safe to say that the office loved it too because PCVs most often complain about what’s going wrong instead of celebrating what’s going right. The impact on students was unbelievable. In the days since the conference, the students I took with me have become my best friends, and they constantly talk about the presentations, the presenters, the food, the games, or the experience in general. Some of my students had never been in an elevator before GLOW. I have also heard from most of my students’ parents about how excited their kids were and how much they have heard about the program. The other most amazing part of this conference was that we were able to get rural students involved in the program. Most of the presenters commented about how when a program like this happen, it’s only the students in the Apia area who attend, but because PCVs are based in rural schools, we reached all across the island to schools and communities that have never been touched by something like this before.
Huge thanks to everyone involved: friends and family back home who offered support and donations to make this possible. All the presenters, who gave their time to talk about different aspects of dreaming and achieving success. UN Women for your financial support and offer to continue similar programming in the future. The parents of the students we took, for trusting the palagi to take your daughter to Apia and bring her back in one piece. To students, for giving us a chance. To everyone involved – it’s way too cliché, but must be said – we couldn’t have done it without your help and support.
Really, though, the most amazing part of the GLOW conference is that it happened.