What started in 1925 with 18 girls in Shanghai has now grown to include almost 13,000 members in 90-plus countries around the world. USA Girl Scouts Overseas (USAGSO) supports daughters of military, foreign service and American expat families as they move to new international locations, giving them the same opportunities for familiar traditions (cookies!!) and quality leadership training as stateside Girl Scouts have. This overseas program offers a much-needed sense of security and stability while continuing Girl Scouts’ mission of building courage, confidence and character within each member.

Girl Scouts living overseas gain unique skills and experiences that are a direct result of service to one’s community. Volunteerism runs deep within the organization – both in the way it is managed and in the programming for its members. This idea of service goes far beyond the idea of giving back to one’s immediate community and inspires its girls to truly make a difference in the world.

Anyone familiar with the Girl Scouts knows about camping, selling cookies and earning badges. And while these all impart some pretty important lessons, USAGSO is doing even more to foster the next generation of global citizens – particularly through its leadership programming and awards.

The highest achievement in Girl Scouting is the Girl Scout Gold Award. It recognizes girls who demonstrate extraordinary leadership through projects that have sustainable impact in their communities and beyond. One USAGSO Gold Award Girl Scout, Hanna Chuang, was able to earn this highest award while living in Singapore. Here’s what she has to say about her experience:

Being a Girl Scout, I have always known that every voice counts and that when more of us get involved in decision making and in shaping our world, we come up with better solutions and more opportunities for everyone. And being a girl who was born in the United States but brought up and educated in Singapore, I’ve also always known the importance of being a global citizen –someone who cares not just about the people and things right in front of you, but about the people and the issues they face all around the world. 

That’s why I was so interested when a friend of mine started telling me about what’s been happening in Bhutan – a country just north and east of India. For a very long time, a king has ruled the country, but recently, he stepped down and wanted to hand power over to the people so they could vote and have a say in how their country is run. 

The problem is that because Bhutan is a very rural country where most people work on farms, a huge number of women and young people can’t read or write – making it hard if not impossible for them to really play a part in this new democracy. Giving girls and women the tools to lead is what Girl Scouting is all about, and I wanted to share that passion with the people of Bhutan by helping to fight illiteracy in that country – especially among its female citizens. 

So, for my Gold Award project, I started a club at my high school in Singapore to help build a community center in rural Bhutan. Not only were we successful in raising the funds to build that community center where people can get English lessons, learn to use computers and even get the skills to start their own businesses – we’ve also been able to donate more than 3,000 books and have sent students from my high school each spring to volunteer. 

Tens of thousands of people in Bhutan have been affected by our work. But the benefits weren’t all in Bhutan. Just from being involved in this project, students in Singapore have learned about the importance of looking outside yourself and how easy it is to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

So many people think that you have to sacrifice and give up your whole life if you want to make a change in the world, but that’s not true – especially with the rise in technology. A student in Singapore can hop on Skype and give an English lesson to a woman in Bhutan in less time than it would take them to catch up on their favorite TV show. 

My first exposure to community service was through Girl Scouts, and I’m so proud to have passed my passion for giving back to so many other young people through this project. Seeing them realize that even big problems like illiteracy in another country can be helped by seemingly small everyday actions is so amazing, and I love knowing that the club I started will continue for years to come.

A group of school girls in Bhutan.

Another Girl Scout honor is the Global Action Award, which focuses on achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), lofty objectives set by world leaders at the United Nations aimed at ending poverty, creating equity, addressing climate change and more by 2030. This award calls on girls of all ages to take action in support of realizing these goals. Girls can earn the Global Action Award by completing five steps, which include the choice of various activities based on age.

In 2020, the award focused on SDG 5: Gender Equality, and four USAGSO members earned the award through hard work and ingenuity.

As someone who is passionate about supporting women and girls, I love that USAGSO is empowering girls to empower their communities. I look forward to all they will accomplish this year with their Gold Award projects and as they explore climate change (SDG 13) to earn the 2021 Global Action Award.

These young women already know what it takes to be a global citizen and are changing the world every day. There is no doubt in my mind that they will teach us all how to be better to each other – and to our planet.

Learn more about the USA Girl Scouts Overseas and how they are changing the world.