STARS is a week-long leadership conference that brings students from across Ghana together in an environment where they are encouraged to laugh, grow, become agents of positive change, and plan for their future. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) partner with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to identify and invite prospective Senior High School and Junior High School students. With the support of PCVs, STARS sessions are led by Ghanaians for Ghanaians. Ghanaian young professionals are vital to the success of the conference. Some attend the conference as mentors to teach, guide, and support the students, while others attend as presenters on topics such as higher education opportunities, goal-setting, and leadership development. A major focus is to help all attendees understand how cultural and gender norms play a role in the opportunities students receive solely on the basis of their gender. The goal is for both boys and girls to leave the conference knowing the important role they themselves can play in promoting gender equality and empowering young women at school and at home. To see the real-world effect that STARS can have on students, one doesn’t need to look far. At the 2019 STARS Conference, two STARS Conference alumni attended the program a second time in reprised roles, as a guest presenter and a Group Mentor. Both STARS alumni were current students attending KNUST on full scholarships, and asked to return to STARS to share their journey from STARS participants to university students. Sixty students (30 girls and 30 boys) will participate in the leadership conference.
A key example of community involvement is the role the Ghanaian mentors play in the months leading up to the conference and at the conference itself. The STARS Conference mentors are often teachers or young professionals in the schools and communities from which the participants come, the people who know best about which topics are most important for the students to learn, and in what ways these messages and lessons should be conveyed. They contribute this time and effort because of their belief in the power of the program, and what it can do for those who attend. Even though these mentors bring immense value and are instrumental to the success of STARS, the most important contribution comes from the students and participants themselves. The success of the STARS Conference year after year is driven by the passion, joy, patience, and dynamism brought to the program by the participants. The students are STARS.