By Rachel Ingal and Nayab Khan
The International Day of the Girl is a United Nations effort to draw the international community into a dialogue on how to empower and equip girls globally. In recognition of this day, the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) invited 60 Gold Award Girl Scouts from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (GSCNC) to hear from women in senior leadership positions at the Department of State and USAID about how they overcame adversity early in their lives and careers, Oct. 11. S/GWI and the Girl Scouts both intersect on the idea that it is integral to the welfare of all communities to elevate and embolden girls to be the change they wish to see in the world.
The Girl Scouts were given the opportunity to share examples of the innovative and courageous work that they have undertaken in their communities, ranging from donating books for refugees to creating positive change through art. Since their projects are internationally focused and are applicable across borders, what made this eighth annual celebration truly special was having the opportunity to give these talented youth an opportunity to present their ideas on an international stage. As recipients of the Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive, the girls have already demonstrated profound vision and spirit, rightfully earning their place on this stage.
The Girl Scouts began their visit by attending a panel discussion on “Women in Leadership” and were provided with a diverse range of leadership journeys. Moderated by Senior Advisor in the Office of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Pam Pryor, the distinguished panel included Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Mary Elizabeth Taylor; Senior Advisor at USAID Michelle Bekkering; former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations Mina Chang; and Executive Women @ State President (in absentia) Michelle Bernier Toth, who left remarks to share with the attendees. The engaging dialogue spanned from the most redeeming moments of the panelists’ careers to inspiring influences and the positive impact of role models and mentors.
After the panel discussion, three Gold Award Girl Scouts presented their projects that are currently helping to make communities and the world a better place. GSCNC CEO Lidia Soto-Harmon delivered opening remarks and introduced the Girls Scouts new campaign entitled “Girls the World Needs” that encourages girls to enter into public service and better their communities both locally and worldwide.
Sophia Rubeiz from Fairfax, Va., was the first to present her project, “Bag of Books”—a series of Arabic and English books to help children learn to read. She designed her project for Fairfax County Public Schools and later distributed the books in Jordan. Rubeiz hopes to use the books she translated into Arabic to benefit children around the globe and give them a better opportunity for an education, a prized commodity that is not available to many children across the world.
Next, Mia Jackson from Broadlands, Va., presented her project,“The Path Forward: Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Beautiful.” Jackson’s project aims to help lessen the stress and stigma surrounding anxiety and bullying that middle-school-aged girls often face, especially when transitioning from elementary to middle school. She poignantly recalled being bullied as a young girl and discussed how this was a motivating factor in her endeavors to empower young girls today.
The third presenter, Riya Saran of Falls Church, Va., inspired the audience with her “Art for Mariposa Girls” project. In collaboration with the Mariposa Foundation, Saran spent a week teaching art and painting a mural with girls in the Dominican Republic. Saran was able to take her passion and channel it into building community and confidence for young girls in the Dominican Republic.
Supervisory Special Agent Michele Collins, a Girl Scout Gold Award recipient herself, also attended the event and shared her experience as a Girl Scout and how it prepared her throughout her various jobs and roles, both inside and outside the Department. Collins gave an overview of her career, provided advice as a woman in a male-dominated career field, and asked the Girl Scouts why they chose their respective projects, which led to an engaging dialogue about challenges the Girl Scouts faced in the process of earning their Gold Awards and how they maintained a healthy life balance when committing to such an ambitious undertaking.
This productive exchange highlighted the way that girls can surmount obstacles in their path and succeed in life. Motifs of empowerment, service, and community resounded the whole day, and ultimately, the Girl Scouts were able to learn from the work and mission of the Department, and vice versa. S/GWI places a priority on investing in young girls and cultivating them to embody the Girl Scouts motto and be “Girls the World Needs” from the moment they are born.
Rachel Ingal is an intern and Nayab Khan is a regional advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.