Today my REDES (Girls In Development, Education, and Health) group had what is called an Inter-group Exchange with Ann and Erin’s REDES group. This is a fairly new concept and the idea is that it is a chance for all of the girls in a group to participate in a day of REDES activities outside their normal group meetings. Each Inter-group Exchange should include two of the following three components: (1) an informative guest speaker or fieldtrip, (2) an exchange or teaching of skills, (3) a community service or action project. For this particular Exchange we decided to bring in a local nurse from the hospital as a guest speaker. She has two children and has now decided to return to high school to complete 11th and 12th grades (she had through 10th grade only before, she is in 11th this year) so that she has the degree and could possibly become a doctor in the future. The second component we chose was an exchange of skills: my group, which is more established, taught Ann and Erin’s group how to make the capulana earrings we sell and a how to dance a dance they performed at a school festival once.
In some respects the Exchange went really well and was a huge success. Throughout the day we had a number of different activities and I think the girls really enjoyed all of them. We played an icebreaker game known as “all my neighbors” in The States that the girls got really into and were all shrieking and laughing and getting really competitive about. We taught the girls how to throw a Frisbee and incorporated a name game into this activity. We had a great brainstorming question where we came up with questions to ask the guest speaker once she arrived. We had chicken parmesan and cabbage salad for lunch and a couple of my girls told me after that I am a good cook, big praise from a Mozambican. We taught the girls how to throw an American football and have some great videos from that. We did as activity called “my best qualities” which encourages the girls to think about their own best qualities, hear about those of others, and they get to make and keep a bead bracelet. Throughout the day we had free time during which the girls got to just hang out and read Ann’s gossip magazines from the states. They all watched Harry Potter in Portuguese while we prepared dinner and then the girls who spent the night got to watch The Little Mermaid in Portuguese before bed.
The girls from my group were good about helping explain to the other group how we went about constructing this earring-making project; how you must survey the demand of the product and how when you begin an income-generation project you start with negative money because you must first buy all of your supplies. My girls demonstrated how to make the earrings (each earring is a bottle cap covered with capulana cloth) and girl made an earring and got to keep that one. (We sell them for 20 Meticais per pair and they make great gifts!! Hint, hint). Outside later my group performed their dance to “Waka Waka” which basically consisted of them bickering the entire song about what the correct steps were and then one girl spinning too hard and knocking herself over. We got it on tape and although it’s not what anyone planning the Peace Corps 50th anniversary activities can use, it generally sums up life here with my REDES group and brought me to tears, I was laughing so hard.
And then there were the frustrations. Our guest speaker never showed up. She is one of Ann’s colleagues at the hospital and Ann confirmed with her multiple times this week that she was good to go for Saturday. Ann called her multiples times on Saturday and when she talked to her she just said that she was waiting for her husband to come home to watch the baby. Ann stopped by her house (which is about 300m from Ann’s, where we had the Exchange) three different times that day. I was incredibly frustrated because they girls seemed excited about her coming to speak, and had been really enthusiastic about what questions they would ask her. And I was pissed at her—she never called us or stopped by, it was only after Ann tried all day and it eventually became 5pm that we realized she wasn’t coming. The other frustration—I invited 4 female colleagues from my school, an active woman in my church, the local doctor who is a woman, and the Inharrime police chief who is a woman. Not a single one of them came. And what is most frustrating is that I don’t know what we could have done differently. We typed up formal and officially stamped invitations to the doctor and police chief. I reminded my colleagues multiple times throughout the week and even ran into one the morning of the Exchange and confirmed that she would be coming. Of course many of them had reasons they didn’t come, but there is always a reason to do or not do something. I was frustrated because Inter-group Exchanges are supposed to community-based. We (REDES, as well as Peace Corps) are always working toward sustainability, so REDES events must include involvement (even better, be led) by community women who feel like they have something at stake in the project. No matter how much fun the girls had today, three American girls leading all of the activities has two drawbacks: it makes less of an impression than Mozambican women doing the same, and it also ends when we leave the country.