Last school year I had the pleasure of nominating 3 very strong, smart, outspoken and passionate young women to attend Armenia’s GLOW camp. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and is a Peace Corps initiative camp that teaches women to be leaders and to talk about challenging topics. I was beyond excited to see that not only one of my students was selected to attend the camp, but all three. The week of GLOW camp I received text messages from fellow Peace Corps volunteers informing me that my girls were amazing and perfect selections for the camp. I burned with pride, not because I felt that their characters were in any part my doing, but because in just a year I had watched them grow and knew that they would come back from this experience changed for life.
And I was right, my girls came back from GLOW camp excited about life, ready to face new challenges, and ready to share what they learned with their peers. I talked to the girls about what they learned, and with a relentless passion they discussed issues such as HIV in Armenia, women’s rights, trafficking and education. They had learned so much but now they were in the position that they wanted to learn more, but none of these topics are discussed nor taught about in Spitak. We live in a conservative town, where most, not all, but most women marry young, have children and struggle to help support their family. Women are only beginning to see that they have other options. They know of course that they can teach, as nearly all teachers are women, but they are beginning to see that they don’t have to rely on a husband. Spitak has at least two women police officers, sure it is uncommon and often I hear other women complaining about them, but they of course have opened the door for girls to think outside the box. Many of my female students express the desire to be doctors, though they tell me that they are afraid no man will marry a doctor because she will make more money than him… so as you can see Armenia is in a time of change.
After spending my summer talking to these students and other young girls who frequently would come and sit on my porch and spill their hearts out to me, I became very passionate about founding a young women’s club in Spitak. A place where they can learn, discuss, and debate important issues facing young Armenian women. A place where they can learn about career and university options, and find mentors to help them along the way.
As I thought about what I wanted to do with my final year in the Peace Corps I decided that I must work with the YMCA on this project. I contacted them and was happy to learn that they two had been thinking of this subject and that they loved my ideas and wanted to work with me. We held a meeting where we discussed the club, the setback that we would face, the sensitivity of the subject and the opportunity at hand. I told the YMCA about my three students that had learned so much about women’s issues and suggested that they attend our next meeting.
It has been 2 months now that we have been planning our Young Women’s organization, and during this time I have been amazed with the way my girls have stepped up and became leaders of this group. They are now in charge of almost every aspect, and have shown so much passion in it. At first I saw this group as my baby and was a bit reluctant to give up so much of the power to a group of young girls, but now I can see that nothing makes me happier than to watch my students grow. To know that I have taught them, I have counseled them, and I have in a very small way shaped some of their thinking and now they are taking that and running with it. They are such organized, passionate and compassionate leaders. They express their ideas so completely and respectfully that I cannot help but to sit back at every meeting and beam with pride. In the next week or so we will host 30 to 40 young girls in Spitak for our very first meeting, and I am so excited to see what will happen. We do not have the option to fail, the young women here need this, and we may never again be given the opportunity. So we can only work hard, be sensitive and encouraging and hope that little by little we can help these girls to understand that they can be who they want to be. That who they are need not be shaped by the opinion of what men think they ought to be…. I look forward to stepping outside my English teaching role in Spitak and working with young girls to help them understand that they are the future of their country.