Without a doubt, I would not be who I am today without Girl Scouts. Although I didn’t want to be left alone that first year of meetings (thanks mom for putting up with all of my abandonment fears), Girl Scouts enabled me to become a strong, independent, brave, curious, thoughtful individual. From an Outward Bound course in the wilderness to a girl-run leadership program with the State of Michigan, I learned to believe in my own capabilities and see the value of my skills in society. This may sound cheesy, but I can assure you that this is not the case for every girl.
Today is International Day of the Girl and it could not be more important. There are 1.1 billion girls in this world. They are our future. They are tomorrow’s leaders, mothers, mentors, workers, and entrepreneurs. The world has made many strides in improving the lives of girls, but the work is not over yet. Girls still face issues of access to higher education, sexual and reproductive health education, and so much more. There is honestly so much I could talk about—it would take up several blog posts. Instead, I want to share a snippet of my experience here in Thailand.
One of the biggest things I notice about girls in my schools is their confidence. So many of them do well in school. In fact, almost more than the boys. They’re the ones who will volunteer for things when I do an activity. They’re the ones who seem most interested in talking to me about things outside of the classroom. But I bet if you were to ask them if they thought they were a leader, they would say no.
In Thailand there’s always this one student who will tell the other students to stand up and greet the teacher. It’s almost always a boy. Not in every classroom, but that’s been my experience. That’s not to say that there’s something wrong with the entire system and that patriarchy has overrun us and that they’re all doomed. But there’s a little something there.
I recently was talking to one of my counterparts about some of the problems in our community. The biggest one, she said, was teenage pregnancy. That’s a common theme here in Thailand. Stop Teen Mom is an actual program from the Thai government. So, she wanted us to design a project to teach the youth about sexual reproductive health. While that’s great, I was really trying to go big picture.
I want to do this life skills project. When we teach both girls and boys life skills like leadership, positive communication, and critical thinking, we get youth that start thinking differently. When they start to learn these skills, maybe they will start to say no to things like unprotected sex and drugs and violence and all the bad things that occur in our community. It’s not an automatic fix, but it starts to get at the root of the problem rather than just slapping a band aid on. It empowers youth to be able to step up and become leaders. It gives them confidence. It gives them a voice.
Developing leadership and life skills in youth is not a waste of time.
It’s difficult. It doesn’t happen overnight. It probably won’t even reach all youth. But it’s a start. My point is this: girls are important. I’ve experienced firsthand what it is like when you empower girls. It’s pretty darn cool. We can make it happen.
So, here’s to celebrating International Day of the Girl. Girls have real power and real voices in this world, whether they realize it or not. We have made strides, but there’s still so much more work to do. I realize this post was a bit all over, but I’ll let one of my favorite people sum it up for me.
“We’re in this together. Because these girls are our girls. They are us. They each have the spark of something extraordinary inside of them just like our daughters – and our sons – and their fate is very much our responsibility.” – Michelle Obama
P.S. Many of us PCVs are putting on a really awesome leadership camp next month for girls and boys in our communities. It’s part of the Let Girls Learn Initiative and it gets right at these issues. Shameless plug, but if you feel so compelled, we would all be eternally grateful for any support you might be willing to give. For more information, click this link!
Peace and love!