Chicas Brillantes Continue to GLOW
Written by Zach Gerth
“Chicas!” 2nd year Youth Volunteer Sarita Evjen called out. A second later the thunderous reply “Brillantes!” came, voiced by over 60 girls from all over the Dominican Republic. The call was one of countless similar calls ringing out over the grounds of Rancho Ecológico Campeche on the outskirts of San Cristobal during July’s annual Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
2012’s Camp GLOW was the culminating event for the Chicas Brillantes program. The Chicas Brillantes curriculum uses a combination of lessons, or charlas, art activities, and sports to teach young Dominican women about values, self-esteem, healthy relationships, sexual health, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Every year there are also regional and sub-regional exchanges, along with International Women’s Day activities. The program started in the Dominican Republic in 2007 and currently has 900 active members in 70 groups nationwide. “Reaching these girls at a young age is especially important in a country where 58% births in 2011 were by mothers under the age of 18, where 70% of new cases of HIV/AIDS are women, 20% of women have been victims of physical abuse, and 10% have been victims of sexual abuse,” says Kristy Humphreys, a co-coordinator of GLOW and the PCVL (Volunteer Leader) of the Youth Families and Community Development (YFCD) sector.
Camp GLOW was inaugurated in the Dominican Republic in 2004, but the DR’s version of Camp GLOW is part of a worldwide Peace Corps network. The first Camp GLOW was held in Peace Corps/Romania in 1995 and has since expanded to other Peace Corps programs such as Armenia, Belize, Tonga, and the Ukraine. Each program focuses on addressing the unique challenges facing young women in their respective cultures.
Sara’s call and response of “Chicas-Brillantes” came on Tuesday, July 24th, a day designated with the theme “Yo Soy Sana”, or I am Healthy, before a presentation about Women’s Health. The charla focused on teaching the girls to better understand and take care of their bodies, and included discussions on everything from UTI’s to HIV prevention. The charla also featured an activity in which the girls filled up balloons with flour and a marble to simulate a breast, and learned how to self-administer a breast exam. Other activities for “Yo Soy Sana” included a presentation called “Growing Success” that focused on healthy relationships, a charla about the nature of discrimination and how it can affect an individual, as well as an activity called “Deportes Para La Vida” (Sports for Life), which uses physical activities to teach about the nature of HIV/AIDS, and methods of prevention. That evening, the girls and volunteers came back together for what has been dubbed the Condom Party, in which the girls are taught about the importance of condoms and how to properly use them. The party ended with each girl having to appropriately apply a condom to a plátano, and Chicas led group discussions and skits about the obstacles to safe sex practices in the Dominican Republic.
“Yo Soy Sana” was just one of five days of GLOW. Wednesday’s theme of the day included “Yo Soy Poderosa” (I am Powerful) which featured presentations such as Positive Thinking and Healthy Communication, and ended with a Talent Show featuring the girls’ creativity. Thursday’s was “Yo Soy Brillante” (I am Brilliant), which began with a charla about important women in history. The Professional Panel of Dominican women that followed was particularly powerful for the girls. The Panel included a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, and a food wholesaler. Tina Stavros-Braham, co-coordinator of the conference reflected on the importance of the Panel. “Many of the girls are from incredibly humble circumstances. They live in a male-dominated culture in which the pursuit of education is not emphasized and a woman’s role is often relegated to care-taker or home-maker, and so to be able to talk with these professional Dominican women who have succeeded despite facing the same hurdles as the Chicas face was incredibly powerful.” A lawyer who participated on the Panel told an anecdote about her time studying for law school. Everyone in her life had told her she couldn’t be a lawyer, that she wasn’t lawyer material. Initially she believed them and went into teaching; a job more traditionally suitable for women in the DR. Eventually she decided that she wanted to help others and felt that the best way she could help was to be a lawyer. So, despite her own misgivings she decided to proceed with law school and achieved her dream. Diane Partl, Director of Programming and Training added, “The women [of the Panel] lead very balanced lives. Mothers, professionals, community service workers. They are aware of all of their roles, and that they can manage them all instead of being just one of those things is a wonderful example for the girls.”
One major focus of the Chicas Brillantes/GLOW initiative in the Dominican Republic is to develop and foster leadership amongst the participates. To that end, the Chicas Brillantes “Comitè de Consejo” (Advisory Committee) was established during the 2011 year. The Comitè is a group of 10 young Dominican women who have graduated the Chicas Brillantes curriculum and have demonstrated exemplary maturity and leadership skills. The Comitè girls are then required to either start a Chicas Brillantes group of their own in their community, or help their PC volunteer facilitate his/her group. Selected annually through an application process, they are also included in the planning process for Camp GLOW, helped facilitate every charla given at camp, and were put in charge of running entire activities such as the Condom Party and Talent Show. Their leadership was especially important during the charlas. “A volunteer and a Comitè girl can be conveying the exact same information n,” says Humphreys, “but it carries so much more weight to the Chicas when it is a fellow Dominican youth saying it. Aside from the Comitè girls developing skills in organization, leadership, and public speaking, they are also incredible role models for the girls as young Dominican women who are strong leaders in their respective communities, independent, and intelligent, and who are proud of these qualities. It has been amazing to see their development as young women, and we hope to expand the roles of these girls in the program in the future.”
In a pre-test given to the girls at the beginning of Camp GLOW that featured questions such as, “What are some Qualities of a Healthy Relationship” and “Give an Example of a Long Term Goal,” the girls collectively scored an average of 53%. In the post-test administered on the last day of camp, the Chicas collective score jumped to an average of 78%. While the jump in score represented a major success, Chicas Brillantes and Camp GLOW, as with most other YFCD initiatives, strives to reach more than just the kids directly participating. Each initiative relies on these participants “multiplying” the information in their communities, be it through informal communication with friends and families, or by facilitating groups of their own. Aside from the progress on the GLOW test, the effectiveness of the Chicas Brillantes/GLOW initiative is evidenced by the 50 veterans of Chicas Brillantes who now independently or, in conjunction with a volunteer, facilitate a group of Chicas Brillantes in their own community. Each year more and more young Dominican women are being exposed to information about leadership, self-esteem, and healthy living practices, and with Peace Corps’ continued partnership with these incredible Chicas through programs like Chicas Brillantes and Camp GLOW, the thunderous call of “Chicas Brillantes” will continue ringing from every corner of this beautiful country.
 DR1 Daily News — Wednesday, 06 June 2012