Tag Archives: let girls learn

Camp Days

So much for the new posting schedule, eh? My free time and internet access this summer have been a bit…unevenly distributed.

Last week I was assisting with Bayan-Ulgii’s first iteration of the Bro for GLOW Diversity camp, a weeklong gender and diversity camp for teenagers living in Mongolia. The idea is to expose kids who live in mostly-Khalkh[1] areas of Mongolia to some of their country’s ethnic diversity, and to encourage tolerance and mutual learning instead of discrimination.

This first camp was run by my sitemate and two other PCVs from different aimags, each of whom brought five teenage students and a counterpart teacher. The remaining twenty students were sourced from Bayan-Ulgii’s aimag center and more accessible soums based on their proficiency in Mongolian and eligibility for WorldVision funding[2]. The PCVs and their counterparts taught some 101 sessions on gender, diversity and leadership, interspersed with hikes, games, and nightly dance parties.

My aimag-mate and I went along in the capacity of assistant runners-around and Kazakh language support — the latter of which proved mostly unnecessary, because the kids had been selected with the knowledge that the camp would run in Mongolian. This meant we didn’t get a very representative sample of Ulgii’s ethnic distribution (about half the kids were Mongolian[3], and most of the remainder were either from private schools or the public school that teaches exclusively in Mongolian), but that issues of comprehension or discrimination due to a language barrier were few and far between.

The upshot being, I spent most of my time sitting in the back of the room whispering to the lead PCV, “What’s happening now?”[4]

That said — as far as I could follow — the lessons seemed to go over really well, considering it was the first time any of the kids had had a sit-down talk on the subject. They had fun in the classroom (though, like kids on summer break everywhere, they complained that the classroom existed at all). They showed understanding of the material. Inter-aimag friendships were made and some really awesome cultural presentations were given.

I had a lot of fun and I’m hoping this camp becomes an annual thing. Next year the organizers are hoping to expand with more kids and more aimags — which means I might be able to bring a counterpart teacher and do some lessons myself.

(Renee teaching something other than English? Preposterous, and yet I live in hope.)


[1] There are two divisions of ethnicity in Mongolia: first, by whether or not someone is ‘ethnically Mongolian’ (so, for example, Kazakhs and Tuvans are of Turkic ethnicity), and then by Mongolian subgroup or tribe (Khalkh, Durvud, Buryat, Uriankhai, etc). Khalkh Mongolians account for about 85% of Mongolia’s population, and (except in regions like Bayan-Ulgii where a single minority forms the bulk of the community) their dialect and cultural conventions dominate both institutionally and socially.
[2] WorldVision being a major humanitarian organization in Mongolia and one of the funding sources for the camp.
[3] Bayan-Ulgii is over 90% Kazakh.
[4] Shoutout to Trenton for running his sessions entirely in Mongolian, by the way. And to Jake, whose lessons I didn’t sit in on, but who speaks to his CPs in Kazakh two-thirds of the time even though they speak English. I need to up my language game.

Staging and Let Girls Learn

Hi friends!

As I write this I’m staying in one of the cities[1] for in-country orientation, but by the time it posts I will have settled in with my PST host family. We don’t know for sure what the internet situation will be like. I’m taking advantage of jetlag to sketch out a post before my cohort wakes up and clogs the hotel internet connection.

Usually, Staging is a four-hour prefix to the long flight overseas — brief overview sessions on safety and security, Peace Corps goals and expectations, and cultural sensitivity (?) before we’re all packed like sardines to find out who objects to having their shoulder slept on and whether our overexcited sociability will aggravate the flight attendants to drastic action.

Our staging event was two days long. Peace Corps Mongolia is a pilot country for the Let Girls Learn initiative, which provides training and resources to Peace Corps volunteers (and USAID employees) so that they can actively work toward the empowerment of girls and young women through access to education. This year, eleven Peace Corps programs will host an extended staging event and extra PST sessions as made possible by the initiative.

So our staging event had a series of sessions on gender: an intro to the program and to the benefits of women’s education, followed by presentations and discussion on the definition of gender, gender identity, and how the concept/presentation of gender changes between cultures. Most of it was very familiar to me (hooray feminist theory and gender studies!), but I was glad for the extra two nights’ sleep — and there was one session in particular that I found fascinating for methodology reasons. But I can’t describe it here, as that would spoil the fun for future trainees 😉

Mongolia is…an extremely weird country to pilot the Let Girls Learn program, at least at first glance. Women’s education is the norm here rather than the exception.

It was explained to me like this: Men in Mongolia are expected to be the leaders, the decision-makers, the heads of their families and the breadwinners, whereas women are expected to work hard to further themselves, their homes, and their families in absence of the burden of leadership[2]. As a result of this, a very high value is placed on girls’ education, whereas boys are torn between education and early employment.

This is affected in turn by Mongolia’s economic landscape. Some of the most lucrative jobs are in herding and mining — hard labor work usually performed by younger men. Boys disengage in class or leave school early because higher education is not required for these jobs, but later in life they have few options if they choose (or must for health or economic reasons) to change professions. Women fill the majority of education-prerequisite positions and are often the primary breadwinner in the house, while men with less education struggle to find employment. However, those men who do pursue their education are almost always placed in the highest available role, because, again, men are expected to be decision-makers — so while employment and education are not a problem for women, their leadership opportunities are limited.

(All of this was told to me in the States by Americans, but it seems to hold true in-country: almost all of the PST staff are women, with the exception of a handful of people and all of our truck/bus drivers. I can’t speak to the men-in-leadership point, though, because (a) there aren’t enough leadership positions OR men for a decent sample size, and (b) this is a U.S. government program and the hiring was approved if not performed by the Peace Corps, so it’s skewed toward U.S. norms, and many leadership positions are filled by Americans or other highly qualified international citizens.)

So I suppose it’s “Let Boys Learn, Let Women Lead” for our initiative — or so our presenter indicated at Staging. But, well, that’s a much messier slogan than Let Girls Learn, and I guess the White House likes its titles clear and concise.

[1] Note that it’s a Peace Corps policy not to share my exact location publicly, because I’m highly visible as the only/one of few Americans in a relatively small community. I mean, in the current case it’s more like a huge group of loud and boisterous Americans flooded a relatively large city, but it’s still best practice not to share.
[2] If you are familiar with Mongolian gender roles and can correct or add nuance to my understanding of them, please do comment! I am yet a novice and an outsider.