It has been one week since the end of Camp GirlForward. As I write my final blog post, I’m in the middle of Millennium Park. The summer is simmering down and the crowds are dwindling. This scene is very different from how I have spent every Thursday in the classroom for the past few months. Mornings began with picking up Chantal and Muna in my neighborhood and counting the math productivity levels on Khan Academy. Days were spent brainstorming for expository essays and participating in writing workshops at Loyola University. Afternoons concluded with group discussions about everything from college life and personal experiences to religious practices. Camp GirlForward was filled with memorable moments and unforgettable experiences. In the not-so quiet busyness of Michigan Avenue, I reflect on my time working with GirlForward and the things I have learned through the stories of each one of the girls.
It was on our last day of class and the girls were reading out loud the writing they had done over the course of the summer. At Loyola University, we celebrated the first birthday of GirlForward and the ending of camp. The girls chose to share their ‘This I Believe’ essays that detailed their moral values and experiences in addition to descriptions of their childhood homes and a moment they wish they could relive. Each one of the essays is an example of not only how writing skills developed but also glimpses into the girls’ experiences and beliefs. One by one, the girls stood up in front of the room, reciting their works. In my mind, all I could think about was how proud I was to see them share their essays.
Depika displayed a confidence in sharing her ‘This I Believe’ essay about her belief in community. She illustrated her memory of coming to the United States, and the difficulties of being unable to speak English in her school. Depika expressed the importance of having friendships in her school and having a continuing connection to Nepali culture. When Neera began to describe her childhood home in Pathri Refugee Camp in Nepal, I felt like I was there experiencing it with her. She talked about the flowers and watery gardens, teasing her grandparents and most importantly, how her home is a special place because it will always contain many memories. Hanan impressed me with her clarity and emotion in her description about her desire to relive the day she left Iraq. She shared her wish to see her loved ones again, to watch the children in her neighborhood grow up and have one more moment with her uncle before he passed away.
At the end of the day, the girls were awarded a certificate for their completion of Camp GirlForward. As each girl received her certificate, I thought about how fortunate I have been to be a part of their lives. Although I was their teacher, I think they taught me a lot more. Each of the girls – Domi, No Ngaih, Vung, Hadeel, Hanan, Kemso, Muna, Chantal, Depika, Leela, Beatrice, Mu Shi, Mu Doh, Sara, Neera, Hamdi, Anita, and Menuka – have lived extraordinary lives. I have the greatest admiration for all of them. I hope to one day hear that they have reached their future goals, whether they include opening a hospital in Burma or running a businesses. Although it is the end of the summer and my time as an intern, it will not be the end of Camp GirlForward 2012. The friendships that were created between the girls and the lessons they learned will forever stand.
– Katherine Kohler, Camp GirlForward Intern
Special thanks to our unbelievably awesome Camp GirlForward interns, Zara and Katherine! We are going to miss you! Thanks for making this first summer so great.