Posted: 18 May 2018                                                                                                         By: Apurba K.C.

On 29th April 2018, thirty high-school students aged 12 to 18, nine American volunteers, and nine Nepali teachers from Palpa, Syangja and Arghakhaanchi gathered at Tansen Red Cross’ premises to participate in Tansen Camp GROW (Girls and Guys Reimagining Our World).

At 8 am, all students, teachers, and volunteers filed into the Red Cross hall which, to our disappointment, was set up like a classroom. We did not want students to hide behind or be hidden by one another! So, we moved the desks and chairs to build an inclusive circle, which would prompt all of us to get out of our own shells.

We began with an hour of meditation. As my colleague, Sanjay, instructed the students to delve deep into their past and present, I intently observed their faces changing colours and expressions. It was heartwarming to hear a teacher stand up and share that this was her first ever meditative experience. We then proceeded by engaging students in a game of two truths and one lie, encouraging them to open up about their leadership experiences, interests, and goals. And wow, were their answers amazing! Listening to little Lila talk about his interest in the complex philosophies of the universe absolutely amazed and impressed me. What was more beautiful was to witness Bal Singh admit his shyness and fear of public speaking, but then proceed to entertain everyone in the room with his acting skills during the course of the camp.

One of the Peace Corps Volunteers expressed the reservations he had about bringing 12-year-old Smika to the Camp, given her young age. Yet, it was Smika who awed the entire group with her articulation, presentation, and leadership skills. Each time I asked the room to share reflections, learnings, and personal thoughts on the activities conducted it was always Smika who stood up, spoke first, and even led her team in all the group activities. And then the young lady went on to win the icebreaker competition—to remember as many participants’ names as possible—we had set out earlier. Amazingly, she remembered 40 out of the 43 new faces in the hall! Witnessing the youngest girl at a women’s empowerment and leadership camp leading the entire group and building great social capital with other participants was quite incredible. I hope the rarity of such moments diminishes with time.

The camp’s spirit was further lifted by the students, teachers, and trainers who had to brave sudden hailstorms, chilling cold weather, lengthy power cuts, and darkened rooms in order to present their women’s empowerment campaign charts—most of which were lit up only by mobile phone lights!

Reading participants’ re-defined story of selves, watching their dramatized representations of the injustices against women at home, school, work, and community, listening to their campaign charts on catalysing community-suitable agro-businesses all motivated us trainers. We felt that we had succeeded in inculcating complex leadership frameworks and components into their agile minds.

One of the best demonstrations of students’ learnings about listening to self, empathizing with others, analysing problems, and doing collaborative action was their performance during the Longest Queue Game. They elected a leader, trusted the leader’s directions, empathized with each other’s pains, analyzed creative ways to utilize their resources to collaboratively form the longest queue. The students really gave their all in the activity as they stretched themselves, held each other’s hands, and utilized various clothes, jewelry, headphones, shoes, and even shoe soles and strings to build the longest queue as part of a team. To me, this spoke volumes about their zeal, creativity, and learnings.

By the time we left the camp on 30th April, and reflected on the learnings with Peace Corps Volunteers, the NLA and Peace Corps teams were thrilled about having collaboratively led the relatively shy and reserved group of students into a lively community actively learning from and growing with each other, as well as engaging in youth leadership ideas and efforts. Camp GROW was truly about growing leadership in all ages!

– Apurba K.C. is a Leadership Research Officer at Nepal Leadership Academy (NLA)