a reflection on girls taking the lead, by Erin Malone-Smolla

A week or so ago many of us were getting together to watch a television show on Nate’s computer when I first saw one of my favorite photographs this trip. The picture is in black and white and focuses on a young girl smiling as she works at her desk. The background is a blur of other students running around trying to finish the lesson.

I was drawn to this picture for a couple of reasons. The first is because for the first month or so I was here I was upset with how every time I worked with a group of students, it was always male dominated. Whenever I asked questions the guys would always speak up and if the girl talked at all it was always in a whisper. Many groups I worked with consisted of active guys and quite passive girls. My frustration continued into my after school soccer program, because no matter how hard I tried I could never get any girls to play. On the rare occasion I got them to join in, they would just giggle away shyly and say that the boys could play instead.

Obviously this photo doesn’t represent my frustrations, but rather symbolizes the moment I encountered my star student—a girl. It was the first day we were working at Ngarenaro Secondary School and we were teaching within Raphael’s Geography class. The assignment was to split up into groups and take pictures of different types of trees. This is when I met her. I immediately knew she was a leader because she listened to everything I said and in perfect English would ask interesting questions and offer smart suggestions about the project. She was the first to ask to take a picture so I instructed her on the ins and outs of our basic cameras. She immediately understood everything about it and took a great picture. When we got to the next tree I asked another student to take a picture; however, before I walked over to explain the camera to him, my star student was already explaining how to use the camera herself. I eventually became an observer as my kids went around with their new “teacher” and took wonderful pictures of all the different types of trees nearby the school. I even noticed that my star student had begun translating how to take pictures in Swahili to a quiet group of boys, because she realized they barely spoke English. Once she did this, the ‘quiet’ boys were fighting over who would use the camera next.

Therefore, this leads me back to the photograph. It makes me think back to that lesson when I watched a girl (and her girlfriends) take charge of the lesson and help/teach the boys in the group. It was a refreshing experience, and it made me so happy to see how LTP could turn these girls into teachers themselves and allow them to become classroom leaders.

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