The 2013 National Girls Forum was the reason for my second trip to the Grand South of the country since I first went to post at the end of November. This time I got to invite both a counterpart and a Cameroonian girl to come with me to the beach town of Kribi for the forum.
The theme for this year’s NGF was keeping girls in school. This is a theme particularly relevant to the Grand North of the country, where girls often don’t start, let alone finish, school. In some more conservative communities, women never even leave the family compound, and need permission from their husbands or fathers if they do. My town is not actually very conservative for the North region, but two of the secondary schools in my community have girls as only about 30% of their enrollment. I have also heard of schools in the North where the enrollment is closer to 15% female.
The forum featured topics like working with parents and communities in a conservative environment, helping girls feel empowered, activities to raise money for school fees, and HIV/AIDS education. It is always a little hit or miss when it comes to the quality of presentations for these things, but some of them where really good, and I am hoping that my counterpart and I can put some of those ideas into practice in the coming school year.
My favorite part of the trip, however, was seeing most of the girls and many of the counterparts who had never seen the ocean before touch it for the first time, some timidly, some shrieking half the time, others with a gusto that had a lot of us Volunteers looking on with worry as they played in the strong waves. On the last night that we were all in Kribi, we built a fire on the beach just across the street from our hotel and danced as we sang (often hastily translated) camp songs at the top of our lungs.