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Southern Girls Conference: during the planning stages of the Southern Girls Conference 2005, there was no way the facilitators could have even begun to fathom what kind of impact it would have on all involved.

On the evening of 15 September 2005, fifty-seven girls, six United States Peace Corps Volunteers and two Namibian facilitators gathered at the Keetmanshoop Multi-Purpose and Youth Centre in Tseiblaagte. The conference kicked off with a poem by Maya Angelou entitled Phenomenal Woman, the theme for the weekend.

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Bend it like Beckham

After reviewing the conference goals and objectives (the main one being to create a networking system for girls in the Hardap and Karas regions through the development of Girls Clubs) the learners from grades 8 to 10 took part in an icebreaker that broke them up into "Family Groups" for the weekend. Each group (the lions, owls, sheep, cats and bees) was randomly selected to include girls from each school and of all different ages. With their new families, the girls settled in for the video "Bend it like Beckham" to give them a little inspiration towards becoming phenomenal women.

Friday morning started off with Family Tennis Ball Juggling. This was followed by discussions on Appropriate Relationships, Values and Goal Setting, HIV and Aids, Building Self-Esteem, and Women's Art.

What makes a woman?

During the Women's Art session, the girls sat down at a table and were blindfolded. They were given a coloured lump of clay (simply made from flour, salt, water and food colouring) and were instructed to mould a woman. After a short while, the blindfolds were removed and a discussion ensued about what "makes" a woman. Sometimes it was the hair, or the breasts, or a skirt. Ironically, each girl who identified the skirt as making a woman "a woman" was not in fact wearing a skirt. The activity ended with the girls decorating their woman with beads, glitter, different coloured clay, and other supplies.

Role plays and reflection

Following lunch, the girls took part in role plays. The topics outlined various decisions they may have to make in the future in regards to peer pressure, alcohol, sex, teacher harassment, problems at home, and others. In the later afternoon all participants and facilitators gathered in the conference room where the stage was set for the Cultural Presentations. Each community group had gathered prior to the Southern Girls Conference and prepared a presentation about their culture(s) to share with the group. There was dress, song, dance, and skits, and each presentation was unique in it's own way. To finish the afternoon, each girl sat quietly to reflect on the day's events, what had happened, how she was feeling. The girls opened to an empty page in the journal they had received, and expressed themselves using markers, crayons, coloured pencils, pens and pencils. Some drew pictures, others wrote, and some girls chose to simply sit and reflect on the day's events in her head.

Talking about romance

Following dinner, the girls all gathered in the television room with all of the conference facilitators in the front. Complete with pillows and duvets, the evening's sleepover-storytelling session was a popular event. Each young, strong, independent facilitator shared a personal story of her own about a romantic relationship she had had in the past. After all of the stories, the girls were given an opportunity to ask questions, and the evening ended on a mellow note with girls curled up together in small groups singing along to the tune of a guitar provided by one of the facilitators.

Learning about our bodies

Saturday morning began bright and early with a quick icebreaker followed by a Woman's Health Session. For an hour the girls learned about the changes in their bodies brought about by puberty, and why things happen the way that they do. They then split up into smaller groups for a more intimate question-and-answer session led by facilitators in the health field. The second half of the morning consisted of two separate Options sessions, where the girls were given the opportunity to choose what they participated in. Options included Dance and Body Awareness, Sports, taking part in a Walk or Hike, Body Image Collage, and Board Games. This part of the day was more relaxing, and gave the girls a chance to meet with girls outside of their Community Groups as well as their Family Groups.

Making scrapbooks

The afternoon sessions brought about an exciting time for the girls: Scrapbook! Each girl received about 12 photos taken during the conference, taken digitally and printed out from a printer that one of the facilitators brought along with her laptop. The girls were allowed to trade photos, and were given piles of art supplies to decorate their journal inside and out, to make the weekend a memorable one. Following Scrapbook time, all participants gathered with their Family Group for the last official time to give each other a Pat on the Back. On the back cover of their journals, each girl wrote her name and circled it. Then she passed her journal to her right, and received one from her left. Each member of the group wrote something that she admired or liked about each member of her family.

Planning for the Girls Clubs

In the later afternoon, the Community Groups came together again with the conference facilitators from their community for a planning session. Each newly formed Girls Club came up with plans for their return to their community and what they would like to do. After the planning session, each girl had a half hour to reflect in her journal again--a quiet half hour before dinner.

Saturday evening the Southern Girls Conference enjoyed a braai. After dinner, under the stars, each Community Group presented their future plans for the Girls Club in their school. The girls were very attentive in hopes of coming away from this session with new ideas to incorporate into their plans from the morning. Many of the plans included Outreach sessions for their school, other schools in the community, or for women in the community. The evening ended with a lively dance party - the music was loud, the lights finally went out, and the girls danced the night away.

What was taken along and left behind

Sunday morning completed the Southern Girls Conference 2005. Following breakfast was a quick yet complete clean-up of the facilities. Once all girls were packed with their belongings ready to go, the Southern Girls Conference participants met in the conference room for the final sessions. It began with The Backpack, a wrap-up activity designed to allow participants to see what they were leaving behind (shyness, naughty behaviour) and what they were taking with them (self-confidence, new friends, higher self-esteem). Then there was an evaluation session, and the final Closing Ceremonies. Each girl was called up to the front of the crowd with a loud clap, to receive her certificate, shake hands with each facilitator, and receive her T-shirt that was meant to unite her school's Girls Club as well as the networking capabilities of the Girls Clubs to be formed following the Southern Girls Conference 2005 in Keetmanshoop.
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Title Annotation:GIRL POWER
Author:Abrams, Dani
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Words:1160
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