As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have the flexibility to dabble in 
a variety of projects and (hopefully) do some good for students, teachers and other community members.  One of my favorite efforts so far is my Girl’s Club, or Club de Chicas.
Many years ago, Michelle Obamba started a program titled Let Girls Learn.  This program was aimed at helping young girls around the world attain an education by empowering them to reach their full potential.  This was done through grassroots classes and clubs where they gained the knowledge, skills and confidence to make decisions for themselves, their future, their family, and their community.  Development organizations have known for a long time that an educated woman has an immeasurable ripple effect on the health, productivity, and economy of a whole community.  Therefore, educating and equalizing the stature of women is often the initial step countries must take to rise up from the cycle of poverty.  Since this program’s inception, Peace Corps Volunteers have used it with young girls around the world. 
Unfortunately, Donald Trump cancelled the funding for this program early in his first year. 
Since then, Peace Corps has established a new program with much the same intent.  
For girls, it is called Girls Leading our World (GLOW), and now for boys, Boys Respecting 
Others (BRO).  Lessons to educate and empower both genders are often held through 
weekly clubs, and sometimes intensive camps, for more practice with these themes.  
During my Peace Corps training, I learned about the GLOW/ BRO programs and dreamed 
of developing a club in my school, especially for girls.  But the language barrier was always 
in the back of my mind.  How could I talk to girls about their bodies, family planning options 
or their future with my stilted Spanish?  I definitely didn’t have the vocabulary for all of that!  
The answer came to me last fall when a new, completely fluent Spanish speaking Health 
Volunteer arrived in Ibarra.  Juliana instantly became my answer, and, I’m happy to say, my new friend.
Upon her first visit to my small school, Agustín Cueva Dávila, she immediately saw the potential.  Predominately, my students come from a lower socio-economic background, many students are forced to repeat grades due to poor academics and last year we had a 10th grader who brought her baby to school every day.  This year, she dropped out.  Yes, Juliana agreed, let’s help these girls shine.
For the next few months, we worked over the curriculum, picking and choosing activities based on how we wanted to impart the information.  I also wanted to add a component of a youth yoga program called Roots Tribe Yoga.  In the end, we decided to meet with the girls weekly for seven weeks, starting and ending every session with some yoga and meditation practices.  We were a little hesitant to teach some of these themes in this predominately Catholic country, so we made sure to be very transparent about our topics.  We invited parents to an information session (but nobody came), and required a signed permission slip.  Two weeks later, we had eighteen 8th-11th grade girls 
signed-up and we were ready to start!
During our classes, we covered topics such as self-esteem, setting short-term/ long term goals, making a life plan, healthy relationships and consent, sex vs. gender, menstruation, types of contraception, family planning, and stopping violence against women.  While I ran the yoga section of each lesson (which the girls ended up loving!), Juliana used many activities, group games and discussions to lead the girls in their learning.  Each week was so empowering and the girls would always approach me the day before to ask “What are we going to talk about tomorrow?”  For so many of them, this was the first time they had ever been exposed to these kinds of topics and as the days went on, you could feel their energy and interest growing.  
Each week I taught different poses but they especially loved our Sun Salutations.
We often played games practicing leadership and cooperation.
Partner yoga week was super fun!
This is Juliana helping the girls in their group discussions.
Sometimes we asked the girls to read and learn something, and then 
make presentations to others.
On the day we discussed a woman’s menstruation cycle, we had the girls make bracelets 
with three different color beads representing each day of the month.  The different colors help girls keep track of where they are in their cycle and when they are most fertile.  I saw many girls wearing their bracelets in the days following this session. 

This was our whole class discussion on methods of contraception.

To kick off our discussion on family planning, I invited Margarita (my “host mom”) to come and 
talk to the girls about her experiences.  She described so eloquently to these girls about the fear that gripped her first pregnancy when she was alone and 17.  She compared that to her vastly different experience at 25 when she brought her second son into a world that included a loving and supportive husband, an income and a stable place to live.  She explained the fundamental differences in each 
of her children and how their different personalities, she believes, can be attributed to their very different experiences in her womb and throughout their infancy.  I so appreciated her strength and candidness.  The girls had so many questions for her.  She made sure to tell them that choosing 
to have a baby so young isn’t disastrous, but it is a long and difficult path. 
For our final session, we invited the girl’s Moms to participate.  The Moms came, and so did some Dads and younger siblings.  It was a family event!
And best of all, they brought food to share!
We started with a giant yoga circle for all the participants.
Leading this, for me, was a dream come true!
Then we asked the parents to join some teambuilding games. 
Next, we had the girls reflect on the weeks of lessons and 
present important topics to their families. 
Finally, we handed out graduation certificates in an award ceremony.  Not only did the girls come up to receive their certificate, but so did their parents.  It was so moving to see these families support their daughters’ growth.  And as our ceremony wound down, many parents approached us thanking us profusely for giving their daughters this kind of information and experience.  One mom even suggested that we hold this kind of club for the parents, because they all could learn something about this topic, and get ideas on how to talk to their daughters in the future.  The girls and their families were all so appreciative and proud of all of our efforts.
It was so much fun to watch these girls grow and learn together. 

Seated in the front row: Alejandra, Fernanda, Vivian, Luisa, Fernanda, Daniela
Middle Row: Me, Nathaly, Guadalupe, Michelle, Jessica, Veronica, Katy, Nayely
Back Row: Erika, Alisson, Karla and Juliana
Missing from the Photo: Nadia, Adely, and Leidy
Mil gracias (a thousand thanks) to Juliana, her health center supervisor, Mariana, and my
fellow teacher, Sylvana, for their commitment to come to many sessions, and support
the girls with us.  And of course, thank you to all the girls who committed to this program
and to each other.  I think you’ve inspired Juliana and I to start another club in the future!