Quilleras Unidas: An Unexpected Meeting of the Minds

By Kathleen Rodriguez and Barbara Alvarado


Off-limits and red-zone: two simple words that have the uncanny ability to produce a long sigh and a slight roll of the eyes. As volunteers, we hate these words. They signify a change that we’re not ready for. How are we going to continue our secondary projects? How will we have a productive service if we’re not allowed to go anywhere? We view these words as giant road blocks in our service that we’re not always sure we can get past.

As the “newbies” of Peace Corps Colombia barely off the starting block, we were no different in feeling a little defeated by the new security restrictions. We were plagued with doubts, negative thoughts, and a general feeling of disappointment. Projects that had initially interested us were now in off-limits zones. The idea of finding a new project left us feeling overwhelmed. What we didn’t realize is that things would come together in a way we never expected.

Thankfully, instead of submitting to a self-defeating “time to throw in the towel” and a “just hang in there” attitude, the CII-5 girls of Barranquilla decided to use their old secondary projects to springboard a new version of an old idea: Quilleras Unidas. They invited us to collaborate on a girls’ group that would include participants from our schools and thus unite girls from all over Barranquilla. After meeting, delegating responsibilities, and sharing ideas, our red-zone worries faded and we became excited about the possibilities.Kathleen_Quilleras2

Bringing Barranquilla volunteers together has given our project the strong foundation it needs. Our goal is to provide tools for the girls to build themselves into all-powerful confident women, but it’s tough. What advice do we give to teenage girls who face the same self-doubt we sometimes do? Moreover, how do we do it in intelligent-sounding Spanish? Luckily, we’re not alone in these thoughts, and the amount of volunteers involved means we are always armed with a wealth of ideas (and Spanish vocabulary) about how to best tackle each session.

Our most recent success was last week’s Belleza event. In a world of diets, beauty magazines, and piropos, we knew we had our work cut out for us. Thanks to everyone’s input, the old Chicas Poderosas curriculum and the overall eagerness of our team, we pulled off a fun but meaningful session. The girls, to their shock and amazement, discovered that in countries such as Mauritania, an obese woman is actually beautiful. In Ethiopia, women purposely burn themselves because their scars give them their beauty status. Bald heads and stretched earlobes mark the beauty of Kenya. We filled the day with inspirational videos, fun games, self-portraits, and even a demonstration on natural facemask and foot-scrub treatments. We were taken aback by the girls’ ability to discuss complex topics with a maturity that surpassed their years.

As we’re approaching our fourth session, we reflect and are reminded of just how true the old adage “two heads are better than one” really is. We realize that if the dreaded off-limits and red-zone terms hadn’t entered our realms, this opportunity might not have either. We’re grateful to the CII-5ers who had the insight to re-vamp their old ideas and include us in such a stellar secondary project.

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