FOR the ninth consecutive year, the residents of Mary Seacole Hall — the only all-woman hall of residence at The University of the West Indies — are nurturing a sense of pride in teenage girls for being just that — girls. They are doing this through their annual I'm Glad I'm a Girl summer camp, which targets girls between 13-17 years from all over Jamaica.
“Every year we change the direction of the camp, and it all depends on what is happening in Jamaica at that time,” chief camp coordinator and chairwoman of the hall Shantal Artwell told All Woman last Wednesday.
“This year we have sessions geared towards teaching girls about their rights in Jamaica, the people who are there to protect them, and so on. Our theme this year is 'Raise your voice'.”
Artwell cited that UNICEF in 2007 said that Jamaica does not have enough safes spaces for children, and pointed to the recent spate of heinous acts committed against children, especially girls, to support the claim.
“A couple months ago there were four children killed in the space of a week, and that shows that UNICEF is right. We don't have enough safe spaces. A camp like this is another avenue to provide a safe space for our girls,” she said.
“Throughout the week we have different activities with different sub-themes. For example, today is career day, so we teach them about different careers which they can go into. We also teach them about trading on the stock market,” Artwell explained.
The 40 girls participating in this year's camp benefitted on Wednesday from small group rap sessions with women in different careers. Community and project manager at National Integrity Action (NIA), Nellisa Asphall; project manager at Digicel, Khadine Carty; director and illustrator Ayanna Dixon; and economist at the Bank of Jamaica, Jonielle McIntosh, were among the day's presenters. The campers also made vision boards demonstrating their chosen career paths, and the steps they plan to take to achieve them.
One of the teenage girls in the camp, Maisha Francis, said: “So far the camp has been very good. It's my first time coming to a summer camp, and the sessions that we've had are very empowering to us as young women.
“We've learnt things like self-defence, our laws and rights, and ways to make ourselves feel better. If I could, I would definitely come back another year,” the Manchester High School student said.
The girls, a fraction of whom are residents at the Homestead Place of Safety, are guided by 15 trained student counsellors during their stay. They board on hall and are hosted throughout the eight days of engagement, which can become a financial burden to the organisers. In an attempt to offset some of these costs, the camp has invited “Gladiators” to join the movement by sponsoring girls to participate.
“We get assistance from other halls on campus for some items, and other people volunteer their time and skills, and we also have some who will give monetary contributions for select girls to attend, such as some Members of Parliament who want girls from their constituencies to take part,” Artwell shared.
“One person who has been supporting us for years is broadcaster Dionne Jackson Miller, and she has been asking companies for help on our behalf.”
Members of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn and Alando Terrelonge are also gladiators in this year's camp.