22 May 2012

Liberia: Peace Corps Volunteer Starts High School Girls Club

Washington — A club started by a Peace Corps volunteer for secondary school girls in Liberia is giving the girls new ways to think about themselves and their futures.

Peace Corps volunteer Charlene Espinoza of San Diego, California, recently started the club in her Liberian community to help foster gender equality and empowerment among young women.

Since Espinoza formed the club in January, 25 students aged 14 to 25 have met twice a week to work on craft projects and attend lectures and workshops designed to teach healthy life skills and self-confidence. Espinoza is also teaching club members to sew and sell merchandise out of recycled African textile pieces.

"After spending time at the school, I realized that I needed to introduce the female students to something creative and different that would allow them to think outside the box and give them a fun opportunity to do something other than their daily chores," Espinoza said, according to a May 21 Peace Corps news release.

"I thought teaching them to sew merchandise out of scraps was a great project because it's authentic, original and eco-friendly," said the English teaching volunteer, who has been in Liberia since June 2011.

The sewing project started soon after the club officially formed. Once Espinoza received funding to purchase sewing machines and materials, she hired a professional tailor from the area to teach the members to sew simple bags and purses from textile scraps.

"I decided to name the purses 'Bosh Bosh' bags," said Espinoza, who is a graduate of the Design Institute of San Diego. "This name comes from the local Liberian word for different types of African fabrics."

Once the young women became comfortable sewing bags and purses, they decided to expand the "Bosh Bosh" sewing project to include e-reader cases. They are now selling the bags and e-reader cases to local community members and incoming Peace Corps/Liberia volunteers. Income generated by sales of the "Bosh Bosh" products goes toward the members' school registration fees, school supplies and uniforms.

"The idea behind the club as a whole is to show the female students not only a valuable skill, which is to sew, but to build self-confidence and expand their creativity and open their minds to new ideas and avenues," Espinoza said.

"I believe that the club will benefit the girls as well as the community itself by promoting self-awareness and self-confidence within the female community members and future leaders. Several older community members have expressed how much they appreciate us introducing their girls to not only this new skill but to this new opportunity for them to blossom on their own."

More than 3,910 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Liberia since the program was established in 1962, and 38 volunteers are now serving in the country. They work in the area of education and are trained and work in Liberian English, Kpelle, Mano/Gio, Gola, Via and Mano.

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