Girl Connect in Zambia: Part II

By: Rachel Johansen

Colorful paper decorations hang on the classroom walls. Cookies, chips and juice sit out on a desk. Flowers the girls made from coffee filters and pipe cleaners adorn everyone’s hair. There is singing and full scale photoshoot complete with model poses. The girls of Linda Community School and I are enjoying a bittersweet party to mark our last Girl Connect session together.

We have been busy over the last few weeks. The topics of friendship, team building and identity were covered. With each meeting I adjust the curriculum a bit more to better fit with my resources and more importantly, the culture. The predominant teaching style these girls have experienced involves the teacher writing a lesson on the board and the students copying it. Discussion and interaction are kept to a minimum. I learned to adjust my expectations when asking girls to volunteer their opinions or engage in outside-the-box thinking.

One afternoon we all huddled around my phone - standing on chairs, leaning on each other, disregarding personal space - to watch a fascinating TED talk about how everything we thought we knew about the evolution of camels was changed with the discovery of one fossil. We were learning about growth mindset. The video helped to demonstrate the importance of keeping an open mind and adapting to new situations in innovative fields as well as in their own lives. This topic is especially important for girls who are growing up in a community that must focus on getting by. It is not an environment that can always foster alternative solutions, and I saw how many of the adults become jaded due to circumstance. I would love for these 13-year-olds to hold on to their optimism and aim for goals beyond the presented default because they all have tremendous potential.

In fact, I had to employ that very growth mindset with our career day. This session was intended to be a chance for the girls to talk with local women from many career fields in a speed dating style event. Of course, when visiting another country, you must learn to be adaptable and flexible. Difficulties with communication meant that we weren’t able to schedule any of the visitors. But we were still able to have a great conversation about possible careers and how to figure out what you want to do. I told them to start by noticing what they enjoy doing and what they’re good at. I asked Violet to name something she enjoys and something she is good at -  rugby and choir. Then I asked the rest of the group for some career ideas that might be fitting for someone who enjoys rugby and is good at singing. There were the expected responses of singer and professional rugby player. Then Spirit raised her hand and questioned what it is about rugby and choir that Violet enjoys. Maybe she might enjoy a career that involves movement or one that requires working with a team? I was thrilled with Spirit’s response. It was this nuanced and creative thinking that I was hoping to help cultivate in the girls I worked with.

So we have a lot to celebrate at our party. These twenty 7th grade girls were exposed to some new ideas and eagerly absorbed them. I choose to believe that the experience will inspire them in the critical years to come because it certainly inspired me.

Brittany Yelverton