Thursday, June 7, 2012

Camp GLOW 2012

 Dear Blog Readers Near and Far,

Mālō e lelei!  That’s a friendly hello from the Kingdom of Tonga.  As most all of you know, I’m currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer here on a small island called Vava’u.  My primary assignment is teaching English at a local school, but I also participate in various secondary activities.  One of these activities is something called Camp GLOW, a delightful acronym that stands for Girls Leading Our World. 
 Camp GLOW is held in Peace Corps countries all over the world and strives to encourage young women to become active citizens by building their confidence, increasing their self-awareness, and developing their skills in goal setting and career planning.  High School girls who exhibit academic excellence and leadership potential are invited to this weeklong camp free of charge.  They get to interact with speakers who are successful Tongan women in business, health, and a variety of other fields. The girls participate in activities focused on goal setting, critical thinking and decision making, computer literacy, public speaking, conflict resolution, the rights of women and children, sexual harassment and domestic abuse, nutrition, first aid, and environmental responsibility. Every day presents a chance for play and self-expression in a safe and encouraging environment.

I had the pleasure of being a part of Camp GLOW Vava’u last year so I can tell you from experience that this is an absolutely worthwhile cause.  At first glance, the activities that I mentioned above might not sound all that life changing.  Growing up in America, youth are almost bombarded with opportunities to hone their critical thinking skills and learn about decision making.  The context of our American culture (and hopefully also loving families and great role models) instills in young people the belief that they have power over their own destinies.  Tongan girls don’t have that same experience; many have trouble imagining their future following a path that diverges from the experiences of their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts (many of whom didn’t even receive a high school education). ..but times are changing! 
This year, I am part of a very small group of Peace Corps Volunteers planning and facilitating the camp.  We are in the midst of planning and fundraising locally and internationally for 2012. It’s a huge task but, the camps for the past two years have proven to be well worth the blood, sweat, and (happy) tears that go into planning and implementing them. This is where I need your help.
The local community has contributed 50% of the cost of the camp for 2012 and Peace Corps Volunteers are responsible for funding the other half. We are doing this online through the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP). The PCPP allows friends, family, and organizations abroad donate to Peace Corps projects across the world [and all donations are 100% tax deductible!].
Working with these young girls and providing for them an opportunity to become informed, active, independent, and responsible citizens- an otherwise unreachable goal in Tonga-is something that means the world to me, and it would mean even more if you could show your support. 
If you think you’d be able to make a donation to this exceptional project, please follow this link: Camp GLOW 2012  

Thank you so much for your time.  Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or would just like to say Hi!

All the Best,
Nora Graves
PCV, Kingdom of Tonga

The Difficulties of Exercising in Tonga

During my first year of Peace Corps, I was a pretty devoted exerciser!  When I first arrived at my site, I had a lot of free time and a tiny house….so; I got out into the fresh [although usually stiflingly humid] air and ran.  I like running….and Peace Corps can be tough sometimes, so I needed the endorphins, too. 
I had a pretty good rhythm going my entire first year.  The school year was winding down in November and I was taking relaxing morning runs almost every day.  Then Christmas arrived and I was lucky enough to head back to the states for some “clean life” time.  Flash forward to January.  I am ready to commence Peace Corps: Year 2 and I just can’t get my feet into running shoes!  Now here we are at the beginning of May and I’m getting back on the horse.  I took a run yesterday and it felt great.  However, it also reminded me why exercising in Tonga can be a bit of a challenge.  I’ll just lay out my timeline for you.

4:00 pm -    The sun has now reached only 80% scorching level, so I’m going to attempt to go outside.  I  
                        stretch a little, throw my shoes on, and head outside.

4:05 pm -    I leave home briefly chatting with a few neighbors along the way.

4:10 pm-     I’ve walked nearly to the edge of my village and am about to start running when some ladies              in an approaching truck flag me down.

4:15 pm-     We’ve exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes when they finally say  “Fakamolemole Nola,             Can you help us fix our video camera??”  It’s the Tongan way to always apologize [the     fakamolemole] before you ask someone for help.  I respond, “Of course, I can try. When                should I come look at it?”  Their answer…“ Well, now?  Here is our camera, the screen is     broken!”

4:20 pm-      A random cloudburst has arrived and it’s pouring rain!  I hop in the back of said truck & off   we go back into the village.  They’re headed to decorate for tomorrow’s church service and                it looks like I am, too.

5:00 pm-     After unsuccessfully fiddling with the camera and reading 80 pages of the user manual…. I    give up.  Technology wonk I am not.  Although people often confuse me with a member of   the Geek Squad and ask for help with any variety of electronics.  I sit and talk with the girls    for a few minutes  about food, the weather, and reasons I should marry a Tongan.

5:05 pm-      Alright, attempt number two; I’m heading out into the bush [a.k.a the farmland outside of my town] for some much needed peace and quiet.

5:20 pm-      Awesome timing! I don’t encounter any cars….only a few friendly looking horses and cows.                Now I’ve arrived at a little house out in the bush where a lovely older couple lives.  They’re            the only people who live outside of the villages, so they always seem happy to have a visitor.

5:30pm-       Back on the road!  I carry on until I reach my spot [an opening in the trees where I have a     phenomenal view of the water and Mt. Talau, Tonga’s tallest and only mountain!]

5:45pm-       I am running back past the lone little house in the forest when the woman runs outside to flag me down.  She gives me a few dollars and asks me to go ‘top up’ her phone so she can                 make a call.  Yep, that’s how it works around here. 

6:00pm-       I roll into my village and stop at the first falekoloa [little shop] because there is a crew of my               students loafing around and I spy a cute baby. I mean to hold the baby for a minute, but as            soon as I pick him up the brother who had been minding him disappears!  Hence, I become a        babysitter.

6:15pm-       I manage to convince one of the kids to take over baby duty as my arms are getting tired     [Tongan babies are big babies!]! Then I head on to a neighbor’s house who sells phone        credit!

6:30pm-       After catching up on the news about said neighbor’s TEN children and buying phone credit, I              am finally home!

Big picture; a run that should have taken me about 30 minutes actually took 2 ½ hours.  However, the real moral of this probably far too long and in-depth blog is that The Difficulties of Exercising in Tonga are the little tidbits that make living here an unforgettable experience.  I can already picture myself back in ‘clean life,’ taking a jog with no disruptions, and wistfully reminiscing about my eventful exercising in Tonga.

p.s. I apologize for the terrible formatting of this blog, but the website was just being very disagreeable today!