First off, a HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to our fund for the girls’ outdoor leadership conference and made this dream come true. We just got back a few days ago and it was a huge success.
My principal and I had made announcements to all the 8-10th grade classes about the conference. I put out an application form and received 22 great applications. Our school was allotted 3 spots for the conference, so I had to narrow it down. We ended up interviewing the ten best candidates and then I picked the best 3. When I announced the 3 girls that were selected they were absolutely elated. None of them had ever traveled much farther than our prefecture, let alone to another region. All three of them were Peuhl and neither they or their parents had never been to the Fouta Djallon (the homeland of the Peuhls). The voyage to see another region of guinea was half the excitement about the conference. As word spread about the conference, all sorts of people were asking me about it and were so proud that some of our students had this opportunity.
The voyage from our village to Doucki is a day and a half long. The girls didn’t hesitate to tell everyone they came in contact with that they were on a voyage to the Fouta. Other passengers in our taxi were excited for the girls as well. It was smooth sailing, until the windy, mountainous roads got to one of the girls and she got carsick…all over the rest of us. There was a moment of shock, but everyone took it in stride and they all started laughing. Our expert chauffeur pulled over next to a stream so we could all wash ourselves off while he washed his car. We continued on and eventually made it to Mamou were we spent the night. Despite the mess we made in the chauffer’s car, he offered to pick us up the next morning and drive us to our next destination, Pita. Before we headed out the next morning, the chauffeur took us to a boutique so we could buy plastic bags, one for each of us – which was a good call since another girl got carsick on the way. Despite being carsick, the girls listened intently as the chauffeur pointed out landmarks on the way and explained the geography of the area. The girls wrote down in their notebooks the name of every sous-prefecture, river or other landmark we passed. We made it to Pita and found a car going to the village of Doucki. All in all, we left our village at 8am on Thursday and arrived at Doucki at 3pm on Friday.
Shortly after our arrival, PCVs Sarah and Juliette arrived with their students. We started the conference with a hike out to Lion’s Rock with our Guide Hassan. The girls reveled in the vast, mountainous landscape. At the top of Lions Rock, we shouted out words and heard the echo from the rocks across the valley. Many of the girls had never heard an echo before (!). After we returned to our “base,” we had a session about gender roles in Guinean culture. We ate a hefty meal of rice and “Mafe hacko bantaara” – manioc leaf sauce and then went to bed. The girls split up in threes and stayed in huts. The next morning we talked about the importance of the environment, how to protect it, and the rate of decomposition of certain objects. Then we went on a long hike into a rocky, forested ravine full of vines. The girls got to climb around and swing on the vines and climb the rocks. Afterwards we did a session about health in which we talked about malaria, HIV, family planning and nutrition. This was followed by a session on how to be a good communicator. We did one final hike in the evening where we walked to the edge of the plateau which overlooks a huge and beautiful valley. Throughout all our hikes the girls had noted certain plants which they saw an abundance of with respect to their villages – most namely a plant whose stem is fibrous and used as a traditional toothbrush. The girls picked lots of them to bring back as souvenirs for their families. That night we had a session about setting goals for the future and making plans to achieve them. Then we had a candle-lighting ceremony where each girl said what her goals were. No one wanted to go to bed the last night, so we stayed up playing games and teaching the girls American camp songs. The next morning we had a final session about how to present what the girls learned to their peers, exchanged phone numbers, received certificates and said goodbye.
We had a long trip home, but thankfully no one got sick. We made it back on Monday night; everyone tired from the trip, but excited to share their experience with their friends and family. I think the girls will remember this for the rest of their lives – Not just the information they learned during the sessions, but how they learned to appreciate the environment and the natural beauty of their country and the friendships they formed among themselves.