Greetings! Peace Corps’ primary mission in Liberia is education, meaning we volunteers are each assigned to a middle or high school. However, we are also encouraged to take on various side projects in our communities. Back in February, we collaborated with about ten other volunteers in the Southeast of Liberia, along with a dozen Liberian counterparts (teachers and administrators) to put on a science camp. It was to be a three day workshop, with a different focus on each day. We planned to invite a total of 60 students from three different high schools in our city. The first day was all about gender. Volunteers and counterparts worked together to lead sessions about the differences between sex and gender, gender stereotypes, sexual/reproductive health, healthy relationships, and consent. The day was full of intriguing discussion, introspective questions, and students learning to see new perspectives. One of the most impactful moments was when one of the Liberian counterparts led a discussion about gender stereotypes, and how they are entirely created by society. It was great to see him explaining to the students that women are not inherently meant to just be wives and mothers, but are capable of doing any job a male can do. Later in the day, the focus shifted to healthy relationships, and some examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
This is information that is often new to students here, and it really hit home with some of them. The last topic of the day was sexual and reproductive health, and we finished it off with an activity called a sperm race. It serves as a visual aid to illustrate how conception happens. It involves a giant uterus being drawn on the floor, with students playing the role of individual sperm racing each other to the egg. This activity is also great for teaching how family planning works, as various barriers can be put in place that keep the “sperm” from reaching the egg.
Day two was focused on math. The students sat for a lecture about calculating surface area and doing unit conversions, and then were separated into teams for an activity. Each team was given information about a hypothetical house that they would need to paint. Then they went around the school to various “stores” that we had set up in different classrooms for them to inquire about paint prices. Their task was to paint their hypothetical house for the lowest possible cost. They had a lot of fun with it, and Amy and I had a good time running one of the stores 🙂
The next math activity was about volume. Again the students sat for a lecture about calculating the volumes of cylinders and spheres. Then they went back into their teams, and worked together to try and guess how many marbles were packed into a 5 gallon jar that we displayed. Many Liberians take competitions very seriously, so they were very enthusiastic about this challenge. In the end, the winning team for this event guessed within 12 marbles of the exact number, which was somewhere around 400. I suppose this means they learned something!
Day three was about engineering. They learned about the importance of engineering to the world, and how engineering is essentially a means to solve problems. Their first activity was to build cars out of mousetraps, old flip-flops, rubber bands, etc. Once they’d had time to build their cars, we tested how far each car would go. The kids had fun with this one, although a few of them got their fingers snapped a few times.
Left, students are working on their cars. Right, the cars are being tested.
The next activity involved buoyancy. The teams of students were given tin foil, uncooked spaghetti noodles, and tape to build their boats. Their task was to build a boat that would float, and hold the most weight possible. Once the boats were ready, each boat was placed in a washtub with water, and small weights were added, one at a time, until the boat sunk. The whole group of kids got to watch each boat take its turn, and the atmosphere in the room was electric with their suspense and excitement as each weight was placed in the boat.
Overall, the camp went quite well. It was great to collaborate with so many other Peace Corps volunteers, and working with the Liberian counterparts was such a rewarding experience. The students learned lots, and had some fun while they were at it. It’s an activity we would definitely like to take part in again, and may do so in the near future.