This is a guest post from the 2017 WiSci Girls STEAM Camp which took place in Malawi, Africa. WiSci is a public-private partnership effort between Girl Up, the U.S. Department of State, Intel, Google, NASA, and other partners.
By: Dayanira Monge, age 15, California, U.S.A
The sun kissed the land, while the birds sung their melodies. Kids ran from the safety of their homes just to wave at us while we passed. Their smiles expressed their excitement and joy, but joy went beyond the horizon. The relationships I created in this camp are unforgettable. Although we were all coming from seven different countries, we all shared something in common. We were all girls who were here to break stereotypes.
When depression kicked in.
After traveling for more than 24 hours, we arrived to MUST. Its majestic buildings and mountains greeted us with a warm hug. The sound of happiness traveled through the bus, we were finally going to begin our great adventure. Yet deep down inside I felt nothing. I went into my room to find my new roommate, Michelle Mafumbo. At this point I didn’t want to interact with anyone, but my manners came before my attitude.I introduced myself and simply told her that I was tired. She left the room for about an hour, but in that hour my mind and heart suffered. I began questioning why I came here and whether or not I deserved this opportunity. This phase lasted for two whole days. It got to the point where I had a mental breakdown. My feelings had won the battle, but that lead me to a conclusion. I was homesick. I was an emotional wreck.
A whole new world.
Everything went uphill after my emotional breakdown. I was finally able to laugh and connect with the girls in my cohort. Our cohort, or nuclear family as Bailey likes to call it, consisted of ten beautiful girls. I shared my life every day with Michelle, Armella, Grace, Kate, Aida, Asha, Rose, Ruby, and Berthia. Michelle is from Uganda and she has taught me so much about the good and bad things in African culture, while Armella taught me how to say goodmorning in Rwanda (mwaramutse). The list can go on and on about how amazing they are. They are the ones who made my experience great, and for that I thank them. They taught me that it’s taboo to show affection to your other half in public or that you can get punished for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. I learned that many girls struggle to go to school everyday because they don’t have the resources they need. Some schools will punish them by beating them with anything in their reach such as rulers or wires. They demonstrated how different countries have their weddings, and the different rules that must be obeyed in order to perform the ceremony. A long time ago in Rwanda, a 40 year old man would fall in love with a young girl who’s age would range from 12-14. That man would come to an agreement with the father to marry his daughter. Once that was settled, they would wake up the girl in the middle of the night, and she would be married without knowing what was going on. She would be covered in sheets so that she wouldn’t know how to run back home. In other countries, the bride would be bought or she would be chosen by a man, but as time passes, these rituals evolve toward a better state.
Beyond the gate.
Life on campus with always evolving. Some days you would find girls who were homesick and upset, but other days you would hear the sound of laughter echoing through the halls. You would find the sun peeking through the mountains, while the clouds captured every second of our friendships. Everyday a new canvas was created and we were the colors, each one unique and special. Although our friendships became closer, what really captivated my heart was the life that lied beyond the gates of the campus. During every excursion I couldn't resist the urge of looking out the window. The trees danced with the wind. The mountains stood strong, and the flowers were vivid. People continued their daily routines, but they stopped and glanced at the bus, moving their heads as we left. Children ran from the safety of their homes just to wave hello. The excitement and smiles on their faces were priceless. Every time I saw their bright smile, I felt happy on the inside. Their voices screamed a welcoming hello. Nothing in the world can replace what I felt, saw, and did in Africa. Although it is a cliche thing to say, Africa will always remain in my heart. I will never forget that you don't need much to be happy. Even though he had no shoes, a little boy under the age of 5, came to say hello. His smile melted my heart, and as we drove away I felt a knot in my throat. He almost brought me to tears.
Girls empowering each other.
Although we were all strangers, we still supported each other. The first day of camp my roommate Michelle told me that I was beautiful. I felt appreciated, after all I am self-conscious about my appearance. Her compliment reassured me that I should not be harsh on myself. There was a time where Grace wore makeup and felt uncomfortable. Sonia, our counselor who is an amazing person, told her that she looked beautiful with or without makeup. When we had a cohort session that encouraged us to step forward if we related to a certain body image,I noticed that we all shared the same problems. At one point in our life we all shamed our bodies. Whether it was being too skinny or too fat, or too tall, we all had been too harsh on ourselves. At that moment I realized the importance of self love and that you don't have to be another victim of society’s stereotypes. After the activity we had a chance to speak about how we felt, and surprisingly everyone was on an emotional roller coaster. We all felt happy because we were not the only ones going through these issues, but it also reminded us of the past and how far we've come since then. We all began to compliment each other and within our nuclear family we all felt the love. We all felt empowered. At that moment I loved myself more than before.
Although there were times when I was feeling down, I will always remember WiSci Camp 2017 as a loving place. I want to thank my amazing counselor Sonia, who is the nicest and most loving counselor on campus. She is such an inspiration because as a woman she has accomplished so many things in STEM fields. Thanks to Armella’s contagious laughter, Michelle's charismatic personality, Grace's honesty and loyalty, Sowmya’s kind actions and Martine’s unforgettable stories. The list can go on about how each one of those girls means a lot to me. I want to extend my gratitude to Girl Up, Google, Intel, World Learning, NASA, the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State and all of the other partners who made this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible. I am beyond grateful for being a part of this life changing opportunity. I also want to thank all of the campers and staff members at WiSci Malawi 2017 because thanks to them this was an amazing and unique experience that I will never forget. I also want to thank Africa, for welcoming us with open arms and making these moments unforgettable.