Every year on February 22, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from 146 countries observe World Thinking Day (WTD). The occasion rallies our global Girl Scout sisterhood around a particular theme and encourages donations to the Juliette Low World Friendship Fund, which gives more girls the opportunity to travel internationally. On WTD, girls connect with sister Girl Guides, take action to improve communities on a global scale, and honor the incredible depth of our Movement across borders and oceans.
In 2017, the WTD theme “grow” inspired girls to explore their surroundings, stretch their boundaries, and take on new challenges while celebrating what it means to be part of a global community. Which is exactly what girls from Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital did—to build on their already impressive record of service—when they learned about newly arrived members of their community who had been displaced from their previous homes.
With their new neighbors in mind, for WTD, each girl in Troop #3173 in Northern Virginia chose to represent a different refugee’s country of origin (in many cases, the country where one of her parents was born). The girls wore traditional clothing and shared a display about what it means to be a displaced person, including photos of their refugee Girl Scout sisters abroad. As part of an initiative to really take the spirit of Girl Scouting across oceans and borders, the girls even created a huge “Love from your Scout sisters in the USA” banner (that everyone at WTD also signed!) to send to a Girl Scout troop in Jordan made up of refugee girls from Syria and Iraq. The troop also carried the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees flag and worked with Girl Scouts in their service unit to make more than 100 welcome cards to greet the new Virginians. This is in addition to the 60 cards the troop had already made during one of their meetings—what a warm Girl Scout welcome!
These girls are the ultimate leaders—confident, responsible, and committed to changing the world. Just look at all of these wonderful welcome cards!
The girls began their journey by watching a simple video that explained what it means to be displaced from a country. The concept then became very clear to the girls, and several stood up to share that their own parent or grandparent was once displaced.
When troop leader Sara Holtz saw her girls’ interest pique, she sought out books about displaced populations to give the girls more information and perspective. The short children’s books, which were the perfect learning tool for Brownie-age girls, covered a span of countries, such as Afghanistan, Cuba, Haiti, Sudan, Syria, and Vietnam. In addition to sharing the books, Sara invited a refugee troop mom, now a contracting officer for the USPS Office of Inspector General, to talk about her own experiences as a displaced person and her journey to the United States.
“She spoke about trying to escape Vietnam when she was just two or three years old,” Sara shared. “She and her family tried to escape at night with no moon. They went to the jungle and then got into a boat. They were captured and sent back to land, where they were put in prison—she and her mom in one part of the prison, and her father in another.”
“She got very emotional,” Sara continued. “Everyone was at the edge of their chairs the whole time, and then she told us how thankful she was to the American people for helping her family come to the United States, donating clothes and other items, and helping them resettle in this country. It enabled them to get jobs, get educations, and become the proud Americans they are today.”
After the talk, the girls immediately wanted to know what they could do to help. With their leaders’ guidance, the girls teamed up with two local resettlement agencies to learn about the most-needed donations for these newly arriving families. Some items included baby kits, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other essentials for families who arrive with little to no belongings.
For the girls, successfully encouraging others in the community to learn how they could support their new neighbors was a proud moment. What started off as a small project quickly turned into something big and powerful. That’s how we change the world—one small, meaningful, and heartfelt step at a time.
Sara’s nine-year-old daughter Nicole has a simple and powerful wish: “I want other Girl Scouts and Americans to welcome and help refugees like we did.”
Sara added, “A lot of times we put people in categories: refugees, homeless, poor, but for us, now, refugees are not just an idea. Now it’s my friend’s mom. And when it’s your friend’s mom, that’s a different situation. It becomes very personal, just one step away from you. That really changes your perspective.”
The troop’s coleader, Crystal Gutierrez, was also inspired by the project. “I'm very happy that we decided to explore refugees as a troop,” she said. “Once the girls grasped the idea of what it means to be a refugee, it opened the floodgate for conversation and for sharing personal stories about refugees in their own families, which in turn fostered empathy and a true opportunity for learning and connection.”
Crystal’s daughter and troop member Dagne, also nine years old, was impressed by what the group was able to do. “At Thinking Day, I was struck by how many cards girls made and how many names were signed on the card we sent to Jordan,” she said.
What a thoughtful and innovative way to reimagine WTD and build community through compassion, empathy, and education. Thank you, girls, for going the extra mile!
And there’s more. In addition to practicing along with Girl Scout tradition of inclusivity and taking the lead to make the world a better place by helping one another and those in need, Troop #3173 has collected more than 1,200 books for Fairfax Futures, an organization that raises awareness and builds support for high-quality early childhood education and school readiness in Fairfax County. This fearless team has also labeled storm drains with “no dumping” signage to help protect water quality in their community, picked up garbage along the Potomac River, and planted native plants to help maintain the natural ecosystem.
For Sara, Girl Scouting is a natural addition to her family’s already strong history of service and outdoor adventure. “Community service is important and rewarding,” she said. “It can become a key part of your life and who you are. The other part I love most about Girl Scouting is the outdoor component. I have always felt that girls don’t necessarily have as many opportunities to camp and recreate in the outdoors as boys do, and Girl Scouts gives them that.”
Beyond that, the leadership skills girls learn as Girl Scouts is also a crucial benefit. “They can go and tell people what they do [in Girl Scouting] and how proud they are, why we should help refugees, why we should collect books for kids, and why we need to protect the environment,” Sara said. “We have a great group of girls, supportive parents, and few constraints on what you can do as a Girl Scout, so that makes it easy to incorporate community service projects. We’re learning as we go, and we’re able to progress and take on bigger and bigger challenges.”
And for Crystal, being a Girl Scout volunteer is one of the most rewarding things she’s ever done. “My favorite part about being a Girl Scout volunteer is knowing that our girls are being exposed to ideas and skills that will sustain them for a lifetime,” she said. “Being a Girl Scout provides a multitude of opportunities for girls and their families. The possibilities are endless.”
Troop #3173, we are in awe of you and your unstoppable drive to create positive change in your community and beyond. Keep up the amazing leadership—the world needs you!
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