Our dream to have a residential camp for our girls came true earlier this month! From May 7th to May 10th , Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) held its first-ever residential Big Sister Camp for 210 adolescent girls from seven primary schools in Kampala, Uganda.
The theme for this year’s camp was She Inspires- reminding each Big Sister that it is her responsibility to take what she learns to inspire others. These girls are all Big Sisters, meaning that they had graduated from GUIU’s one year Adolescent Girls Program training. The overall purpose of the Big Sister Camp was to create the space, environment, and time for emerging girl leaders to discover their authentic leadership and personal sense of power through knowledge and skills building so they can cultivate deep and sustained positive transformation in their lives and in the communities they serve. This camp would not have been possible without the generous funding from Michelle Obama’s Girls Opportunity Alliance.
The Big Sister Network was established by Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) in 2016 to offer additional mentorship and support to the alumni of the Adolescent Girls Program to nurture and strengthen adolescent girls’ abilities as mentors and peer leaders in their communities, schools, and homes. The Big Sister Network continues to complement the AGP by ensuring that AGP alumni stay involved and engaged after the year-long training program has ended and ensure that each girl is equipped with the tools, information, and knowledge to challenge gender inequalities and be an agent for girl-centered community change.
The Big Sister Camp 2019 was a life-changing experience for the girls as they had the time and space to reflect on what it means to be a Big Sister/mentor/leader, learn new skills, and of course have fun, dance and make new friends! For many girls, this was the first time that they were sleeping away from their families and they enjoyed the time to get to know girls from other schools and backgrounds. It was especially amazing for the girls from the Uganda School of the Deaf, who had the chance to freely interact with other girls and show them their skills. As Desire, 11 years old, told us:
“The School of the Deaf have inspired me that disability does not mean inability and we should focus on what our body can do best.”
The four days were packed with various activities, learning sessions, and fun. At the end of the camp, GUIU awarded presents to the most outstanding girls during the camp and their patron teachers who attended the camp and supported GUIU coaches throughout the days’ activities. The specific activities conducted during the camp included sports; hands-on skills training; learning sessions in leadership, mentorship, sexual and reproductive health, effective communication, and body image; creation of community service projects; a talent show; a debate; inspirational talks; painting; training in first aid management; sports; and yoga and meditation.
Below are some of the sessions explained in more detail:
Hands-on Skills: Girls were engaged in learning different skills like making earrings, necklaces, reusable sanitary pads, tie and dye, and ceramics. The girls were very excited to participate and learn to make new products that they vowed to make more of, teach others, and sell during their holidays.
Margret, 14 years old, told us:
“Making bangles and necklaces out of beads was my favorite. I did not know I had the ability to make something so beautiful using my hands with the available resources around me.”
Talent Show: The Big Sisters had the chance to show their talents in various areas including dancing, modeling, singing, miming and much more. The show was a fun way for the girls to relax after a long day and discover the unique talents among themselves. Gloria, 15 years old, explained:
“I liked the talent show that helped me to discover that I can actually dance and I saw the beauty of everyone in their own uniqueness.”
Leadership Session: This session aimed at giving a platform to the girls to understand their own leadership potential and strengths, enabling them to dream big and have goals in their life. The girls took part in a drive/car exercise where they practiced what it feels like to be a leader and a follower. Then, they each wrote letter to themselves in ten years to focus on their goals in life and sticking to their own personal mission statements. The theme of leadership and inspiring other girls was reiterated throughout the camp. As Shamim, 15 years old, told us:
“I have learnt to be a good leader. I have to be exemplary to others.”
First Aid Management: Our Medical Nurse and Coach, Hajara, led this session with another nurse Sofie to ensure that the girls were equipped with important first aid skills and techniques to use them at school, home and in their community. The girls learned what to do for nose bleeds, cuts, burns, fainting, poisoning and drowning.
Debate: The girls participated in a lively debate on the question: Is it a girls’ responsibility to stay safe in the city? Both sides had well-thought out arguments with the proponents focusing on the importance of girls’ behaviors to stay safe and listen to elders. The opponents argued that it is everyone’s responsibility for a girl to be safe in the city from the police to parents and community members. The judges made up of GUIU coaches and patron teachers agreed that the opponents made the best arguments. Teacher Dorothy shared after the debate:
“There is a lot of confidence in our girls. They are so assertive when they are speaking and I am so encouraged.”
Candle Lighting Ceremony: On the last evening, our team surprised the girls with a candle lighting ceremony. The girls gathered in the hall, lights were switched off and each girl was given a candle. The coaches lit a few of the girls’ candles and those girls lit the other girls’ candles so that the whole hall became bright. The essence of this candle lighting ceremony was to show the importance of lighting one another’s candles to let each girls’ light shine through and inspire one another. After lighting all the candles, the girls sung a song together while moving out of the hall where they found a campfire burning. The Big Sisters surrounded the camp fire while singing and dancing in excitement, togetherness, and happiness. Pauline, 13 years old, explained:
“The camp fire was amazing. I danced with my friends around the fire and never wanted it to stop. It was the best night ever!”
These are just a few of the activities that happened during the Big Sister Camp 2019 and there were so many other beautiful moments that occurred outside of the formal sessions. The girls were given the space and encouragement to be the inspiring leaders that they have the potential to be. As Carol from the Uganda School of the Deaf told us at the end of the camp:
“Since I have come to this camp, I have changed my behaviors. I was unruly and rude when I came, but now I am a more responsible person.”
Overall, the energy at the camp was electric and the girls were so grateful to have had the chance to attend. The camp was a huge success and we look forward to the Big Sister Camp 2020! To learn more and watch scenes from each day, check out our Youtube channel here.