The girl power perspective.
In my twenties, I began my career as a humanitarian aidworker in Africa. It was the mid to late 1990s, when Cool Britannia reigned supreme in the UK, except I didn’t know that. Whenever I returned home on holidays or in between missions, I felt a stranger in my own land, an alien from outer space, completely bewildered by the pop culture of the day.
I was blissfully unaware of the battle of the big bands – Blur and Oasis at the time. Surely ‘Blur’ was something that happened after a Saturday night on the town for most Brits and ‘Oasis’ was somewhere I often wanted to be instead of in 45 degree heat in a war zone.
They both paled in comparison to the global stratospheric phenomenon of the Spice Girls though …and here I was thinking they were TV chefs or Bollywood stars.
Girl Power – two seemingly incongruous words, became synonymous with the female pop supergroup and soon found their way into the Oxford and Cambridge English Dictionaries, enshrined for all eternity, meaning:
“the idea that women and girls should be confident, make decisions, and achieve things independently of men, or the social and political movement that is based on this idea” Cambridge Dictionary
In fact, this notion resonated with me a lot, when I returned to work with internally displaced people in South Sudan, during the conflict, after a brief break at home. Young women and girls in northern Bahr el Ghazal did not enjoy the freedoms I took for granted in the UK. Many spent long hours trekking for miles to fetch water, helping their mothers to care for young family members, keeping the homestead clean and assisting with the cooking and cultivating the field.
Therefore, they were rarely encouraged to go to school and could be married off at a young age to begin a family of their own, as children were recognised as signs of wealth and status within their clans.
However, there were some progressive thinkers and activists in the communities, both women and men alike, who wanted to change this and my Sudanese team mates and I worked with them to encourage families to allow their girls to go to school and to set up initiatives that benefitted young women and girls directly.
One of these was a soap making initiative that used local ‘lulu’ oil or animal fat to produce soap that the women and girls could sell locally. This was a simple project that achieved three things in a difficult operating environment, namely it:
- prevented women and girls from having to make treacherous journeys into garrison towns to trade, where they were at risk of experiencing different forms of gender based violence;
- promoted basic hygiene practices, which contributed to improving primary health and
- enabled women and girls to collect an income, which they saved and bought livestock, important long term assets.
Thoughout the project the women and girls we worked with grew in confidence and were given room to make their own decisions. To me, this was simply girl power in action, which had nothing to do with wearing make up, wearing skimpy, garish costumes and singing in gibberish like the Spice Girls…zig-a-zig ah…(Oh God do I sound old?)
It takes the global village to raise a child.
My time in South Sudan, caused me to reflect on the opportunities that were open to me as a teenage girl and young woman back home. I was able to travel from an early age, initially with my parents on holidays within the UK, then through my school, when I went on my first ever trip abroad to Germany on a school exchange programme. I had no barriers to stop me from going to primary, middle and high schools and I received a good education, thanks to inspiring and dedicated teachers and my mum and dad, who always encouraged me (and insisted I do my homework before watching TV!).
You might have heard the African proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child”, which emphasises the importance of strong, community cohesion and joint responsibilities in caring for, nurturing and teaching children and adolescents. When I think back to my own childhood, I realise that my home village contributed to my upbringing, but probably in a slightly different way. There were plenty of recreational activities available to children and teenagers in my local area, for example, ballet classes, gymnastics, swimming lessons, Brownies and Guides clubs and music lessons to name but a few.
I mustn’t forget to mention, that in a rural English village, back in those days it was safe for me to play outside with my friends until dusk as neighbours would keep an eye on us, especially during they summer months when bicycle rides and picnics, fishing and swimming in the river, racing cars or building dens in the woods were mini-expeditions we all relished.
Perhaps this was where I got my thirst for exploration from and set my feet upon the path that has since taken me around the world, to live, work and co-create adventures. Co-creating adventure provides an education above and beyond the home, the confines of school or college or the local youth club. Think of it in terms of the global village raising a child.
I am still co-creating adventures today. It is my hope and intention in this article to inspire girls and young women to grasp opportunities, follow their dreams, reach their potential and live life to the full! So here goes…
12 ways girls and young women can co-create adventure.
Here is a selection of opportunities from around the world, which enable girls and young women to do something extraordinary, formative, life-changing and fun. Whether you have a few weeks or months during the summer time or you’re planning a gap year, or know someone who is, check out these ideas:
1) Inspiring Girls Expeditions
Fancy spending some time in the arctic exploring science, art and wilderness? Do you want to develop leadership, confidence, curiosity and success? Then this might be for you! Each year, Inspiring Girls Expeditions take teams of 8-9 teenage girls (aged 16 – 17 years old) and 3 instructors on expeditions for 12 days to explore and learn about glaciers and the alpine or marine environment. Through scientific field studies with professional glaciologists, ecologists, artists, and mountaineers, participants build critical thinking skills, gain self-confidence, and make lasting friendships.
One team explores Mount Baker, an ice-covered volcano in the North Cascades of Washington State. Another team sleeps under the midnight sun, while exploring an Alaskan glacier. A third team explores the connections between glacier and ocean by kayak in Resurrection Bay, near Seward, Alaska. So what are you waiting for? Applications for this summer close soon so get to it!
2) Earthwatch Teen Expeditions
Do you have passion for environment and conservation? Do you want to have a role in tackling some of today’s most pressing environmental problems? Earthwatch Teen Expeditions take 15 to 18 year olds on hands-on engaging and peer-reviewed scientific field research projects under the supervision of skilled research teams all over the world. Eartwatch runs approximately 20 Teen expeditions each year. So, whether you choose to protect turtles in the Bahamas, track dolphins in the Adriatic, conserve wild bees and other pollinators in Costa Rica, or investigate climate change effects in the arctic or Himalayas I’m sure you will find something to suit your interests.
Earthwatch ensures that trained and experienced facilitators offer additional supervision and guidance for each Teen Expedition, from the rendezvous to the end of the expedition. Note that 18 years olds have a choice between participating in Teen Expeditions or those for adults. Lucky, lucky you!
3) British Exploring Society
Perhaps wilderness is your bag? The British Exploring Society is a youth development charity and organiser of wilderness expeditions for 16 – 25 year olds, enabling them to experience true remoteness in jungle, desert, arctic and mountain environments. It’s aim is to challenge and positively transform the expectations and future lives of young people.
Expeditions to the Canadian Yukon, Peruvian Amazon and Indian Himalayas in 2017 and 2018 are open now, so what are you waiting for?
4) Sunseed Desert Technology Trust
Would you like to experience international community living in a beautiful, off-grid eco-village in Andalusia in Spain? The Sunseed Desert Technology Trust is a hands-on, practical centre for low impact living and environmental education, which provides opportunities for short, medium and long term volunteer stays or internships for people of all ages. Teenagers aged 16 – 17 years old are welcome to attend, unaccompanied but must have their parents/guardians’ consent. Volunteers and interns learn together to develop, demonstrate, research and communicate alternative ways of living more sustainably.
I can personally vouch for this holistic, eco-friendly, friendship-building and fun experience because I volunteered there for a couple of weeks when I was 22 years old and I am happy to see that it is still going strong. You will learn so much about practical techniques for living a greener lifestyle, work hard, eat delicious, healthy food, sleep well and have a great time. What’s not to like?
5) National Trust Working Holidays
Do you love outdoor activities, archaeology and conservation? The National Trust in the UK offers a multitude of working holidays to suit 16 – 18 year olds and 18 + and every interest and ability. You can step back in time by helping behind the scenes in one of the National Trust historic houses or get to grips with how a real archaeological site looks and functions by participating in a dig. You can engage in essential conservation work to preserve some of Britain’s best-loved landscapes by clearing invasive, plants, cleaning beaches or maintaining ponds.
Alternatively you could get hands on experience at a working farm by getting involved in stock management or carrying out a host of practical tasks or try your hand at horticulture by helping to create a masterpiece in one of the National Trust’s beautiful gardens.
No doubt, whatever holiday you choose, you’ll make a difference by using your talents, skills and enthusiasm to further the valuable work of the Trust and meet likeminded people. The fun doesn’t stop there, because you can combine your working activities with exhilarating adventurous pursuits including surfing, sailing, wild swimming, coasteering, walking and cycling!
6) Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms
Would you like to live and learn on organic farms worldwide? Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a worldwide movement (on the ground in 60+ countries) linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences. You’ll get accommodation, food and learning exchange in return for your practical help on the land. As a volunteer you will live alongside your host helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer. You’ll share your life with like-minded people, while helping to build a sustainable, global community.
So if you are passionate about healthy food, healthy living and a healthy planet click on the link above to register with your national branch of WWOOF first and then pick the location you’d like to go to. Do check the terms and conditions for membership as you’ll probably have to be 18 years old or over to join.
7) National Citizen Service, UK
Do you want to make your mark and make a difference in your local community? Well, check this out! The National Citizen Service (NCS) is an non for profit social enterprise in the UK that brings 15 – 17 year olds together in their local communities to embark on exciting adventures, learn new skills for work and life, plan, fundraise and create social action projects and graduate in style. Inspiring stories from past alumni include projects to support the homeless, increase accessibility in urban environments for disabled people, bridge the gap between youth and older people, raise awareness and support for young LGBT community members and fundraise to enable parents’ and children’s stay in hospitals more comfortable.
The programme consists of four phases:
- adventure – participants meet their team mates and challenge themselves through a range of exhilarating activities at an outdoor activity centre;
- skills learning – in a uni-style environment individuals learn important skills to prepare them for further study, work and life e.g. confidence, leadership and communication;
- social action – this phase consolidates the learning and experiences from the previous phases. Participants and their team mates plan, fundraise and create their own social action projects;
- graduation – the final phase involves graduating from the programme and entry into a growing NCS family, where alumni gain access to a huge variety of volunteering opportunities and apprenticeships.
8) I Will Campaign, UK
In a similar vein, the I Will Campaign is a UK-wide long-term campaign to encourage 10 – 20 year olds to engage in social action opportunities, thereby creating a habit for life, developing vital skills and making a positive impact on their communities. Social action includes campaigning, fundraising and volunteering. More than 500 business, education and voluntary sector partners have committed to embedding social action into the lives of young people.
If you are over 20 years old you can get involved by supporting young people as an adult volunteer. For those between 10 and 20 years old, you can get involved through your school or where you work, set up your own project or find out about one of the many excellent programmes that already exist around the UK. Head on over to the website to take a closer look.
9) Cambridge Immerse Programme
For students thinking ahead to University, how about spending a couple of weeks during the summer immersed into the daily life of one of the world’s most prestigious Universities? The Cambridge Immerse Programme offers 16 – 18 year olds a two week residential academic programme with a diverse curriculum providing a taster of what it’s like to study a subject at university level. Tutorials and seminars are designed and taught by expert tutors to stimulate enquiring minds and inspire academic excellence. Students stay in one of central Cambridge’s largest and most beautiful university colleges.
It’s not all work and no play though. There are also plenty of extra curricular activities to enjoy too! Students emerge more confident and ready to articulate what they have learnt, with knowledge of their chosen fields, unparalleled academic insights and plenty of memories to take home.
10) Music summer schools
Talking of summer schools, if you are a budding musician, why not hang out some of the best music schools and colleges to hone your talent? For example Chethams School of Music, near Manchester in the UK, runs an International Summer School and Festival for Pianists of all ages and abilities. Participants enrol from all over the world and are inspired, guided and educated by an extraordinary faculty of over 60 internationally celebrated performer-teachers.
Meanwhile across the pond, Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute is recognized internationally as a premier summer training programme for aspiring young musicians aged 14 – 20 years old. Whether you play a woodwind, brass, string or percussion instrument or sing, it is the only programme of its kind associated with one of the world’s great symphony orchestras. Under the guidance of distinguished professionals, and in the presence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), students are immersed in an atmosphere of extraordinary music making. They are encouraged to reach high artistic standards, through rigorous programming, and gain a rich legacy of learning and performance.
For other inspiring music summer schools, take a look at this link.
11) Exploring spirituality and mindfulness in the every day
If you are seeking a more contemplative experience and wish to explore your spiritual journey with fellow seekers from all walks of life, there are opportunities out there to do this from different faith perspectives. Here are just two examples from Christianity and Buddhism, but there are many more!
The Taizé Community in France runs a Special Week for 18-35 year olds each year. The aim of the week is to allow young adults with a similar life or work situation to meet and discuss their future seen in the light of faith. As well as bible introductions, prayer time and ‘celebration of people’, there are workshops, which bring together young people from different continents, international organisations, Christian communities and local initiatives to discuss and grapple with pressing issues of the day. Themes have included poverty, issues facing migrants in Europe, ethics, alternative currencies, climate change, positive media and interfaith perspectives. Prepare to be stimulated, inspired, challenged and grow! By the way for those of you in the UK, Taizé is coming to Birmingham over the May bank holiday to run a Hidden Treasure weekend for young people, check out the programme here .
Also in France, the Plum Village Mindful Practice Centre, near Bordeaux runs a Summer Retreat Programme for Teenagers on mindful activity. Note, there are separate programmes for boys and girls. In each programme participants learn how to listen deeply to each other and support each other. They learn some simple ways to handle strong emotions and difficulties. In addition, there’s plenty of time to play a lot of games, music and sport, and usually there are several co-creative projects, depending on what everyone would like to do.
12) Youth leadership at sea
If you’d prefer to get a taster of life on the ocean waves and want to pursue the adventure of a lifetime, then how about crewing on a Tall Ship? The Jubilee Sailing Trust is an international, United Nations accredited disability charity, promoting integration through the challenge and adventure of tall ship sailing. The Trust provides life-changing adventures to people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of physical ability. Voyages change lives by improving self-esteem, building confidence, and providing fantastic leadership and life skills.
One aspect of their work is the Leadership@Sea programme for 16 – 25 year olds, specifically designed to equip young people with life skills that will help propel them forward in their future careers. The programme builds confidence through experience, giving participants the opportunity to lead a team made up of a wide age range and of different physical abilities. The experience challenges their leadership and communication skills and improves their understanding of different people’s strengths and abilities, ultimately enabling them to become better leaders and team players. The JST’s Youth Leadership at Sea is an accredited Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award residential programme:
I can personally vouch for the Jubilee Sailing Trust as I was a crew member aboard the Lord Nelson for the first leg of the European Tall Ship race from Antwerp to Aalborg in 2004. The voyage was a truly unforgettable experience that enabled me to fulfil a 20 year dream (since I was 14 years old) to sail on a Tall Ship. The young people I met, who participated in the Leadership@Sea, were fantastic, inspiring and confident. You can be too! So don’t delay, apply now.
By the way, for those of you, who would like to experience in-shore and off-shore sailing on a yacht, my husband and I will run opportunities onboard Theros, our 42 ft sailboat, in the near future, while we sail around the world. If you’d like to find out more and get on our mailing list, head over to our website Theros Sailing Adventure and drop us a line.
Please note that many of the above opportunities aren’t exclusively geared towards girls and young women, boys and young men can enjoy them too (except number 1). However, I wanted to make girls and young women aware of these opportunities, so they have a chance of co-creating life changing adventures, fulfil their wildest dreams and reach their full potential. Do pass this article on, if it resonates with you and feel free to leave comments below and tell me what appeals to you and how you get on.
Now turn off your TV set, plug in to your own girl power and get ready to co-create your own, life-changing adventure today!
Peace, love and light,
© Sarah Justine Packwood 2017
About the author: Sarah Justine Packwood is a humanitarian and community development consultant, reiki practitioner, writer, co-creator, traveller and crew member of Theros for a round-the-world voyage. Find out more at her About Sarah page or take a look at her Linked In profile. If you want Sarah to work with you, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!