Just got back from Camp Espoir (Camp Hope) up north. It was a boys camp put on for 30 of the best male students at a school. It may have been the best thing I’ve done with my service so far. We gave sensibilizations on sexual health, personal responsibility, gender equality, healthy relationships, substance abuse, and many other topics. Each day ended with an hour of sports: soccer, dodgeball, or a field day/relay race (fyi, they HATED the relay race). It was really rewarding in hindsight, and incredibly exhausting in the midst of it all.
There are a large number of girls camps in each region of Benin. These are a means to empower young girls, give them reason to stay in school, and teach them about sexual health, among other things. However, this was the first year that a boys camp has been organized, and there were two of them. I think that it went a long way for these boys to begin to start asking questions that they’ve never been asked before. Asking themselves if a man really is naturally smarter than a woman, asking them to give reasons “why” instead of just letting them state an answer that they think someone wants to hear.
I don’t think it does any good to educate and work with only girls or only boys. I think that they both need to be taken out of their comfort zone and be asked difficult questions that they may have never been asked before. My favorite session at boys camp was one that investigated what a good man is. It began by asking the students to give words to describe a man. The first answers were “penis” and “no earrings.” After that, we gave each group of boys a situation in French to read and place on a Venn diagram under unhealthy, healthy, or it depends. After that they began to notice how insufficient their first answers were. Now they gave answers like, “a man can be strong without being domineering,” “a man is patient,” “a man is loyal” (I may have fixed the wording slightly). Next they were a given a situation which asked what they would do if their sister was beaten so badly by her boyfriend that she had to be taken to the hospital. At this point there was a lengthy discussion between Beninese facilitators working with us, and the students, which ended at a point where the boys realized they could solve the situation without resorting to violence or rashness. So basically, in one hour, the description of what a man is moved from “penis” to “thoughtful, patient, non-violent strength.”
I am convinced that people just need to be asked questions they either haven’t been asked before, or be asked in a way they haven’t before, and it will work wonders for their views on any number of issues.
Disclaimer: The opinions described in this blog are mine, and in no way reflect those of the Peace Corps.