Friday, October 19, 2012

More amazing leadership encounters at Girls World Forum!

Thanks to GSOSW member Norah Storniolo for this great piece about her experience at Girls World Forum 2012 in Chicago, Il.!
In July of 2012, I was granted the amazing opportunity to travel to Chicago, IL for the Girls World Forum. Little did I know, this event would give me a new and unique perspective on other cultures, girl scouting and girl guiding, and the power of women and girls working together to make a positive difference. I would never have guessed how many new friends I would make, the foods I would try, the cultures I would learn about, and the connections I would make with peers that had similar values and aspirations as my own. This event was something I will not soon forget.

From the moment I set foot in the hotel where the conference was being held, I knew that the week would go much faster that I wanted it to. The days were a whirlwind of meeting people and learning new things.

I could talk for a long time about each day, but I’ll just give a few points and memories to give you the idea.

We arrived at the hotel tired from traveling, but excited for the days that lay ahead. I was especially looking forward to meeting my roommate, so as soon as we got ours room keys and our various bags of schedules and shirts, girl scout cookies and folders, we headed upstairs. When I got to my room there was no sign of another girl- except for a brown bag in the corner.

I had to head downstairs to eat dinner, and so my roommate became a bit of a mystery. At dinner we got a chance to meet our patrol groups, the girls that we would be with for all of our breakout sessions. We also got a chance to exchange SWAPS, a Girl Scout tradition, and I saw for the first time many of the faces I would be familiar with by the time I left the conference.

When I finally got a chance to head back to my room, I was welcomed by my roommate, a  sweet seventeen year old from Portugal named Adriana. Though she didn’t speak much English, and I spoke no Portuguese, we were able to converse and learn a little about each other using some English words and lots of hand symbols.

Our second day began with Opening Ceremonies, where we heard a little more about what the following days would bring. There was also a beautiful flag ceremony, with every country represented by a flag. Each flag was so varied, so unique, so beautiful,  and each was being carried by an equally unique and beautiful girl. It was a powerful feeling, being surrounded by this mass of women and girls, national anthems from all over the world being played in the background, the flags being carried together.

Most of the days focused around a certain Millenium Development Goal (MDG), and the topic of our second day was Poverty. We discussed what poverty was, who it affected, and how people could fall into poverty. We also talked about solutions, and brainstormed the best ways to make these effective.

That night we rode on a double decker bus and got a tour of the ‘Windy City’. Coming from a small town, the sheer amounts of people and the size of the buildings was impressive. And being on the top of an open air bus, I could see exactly how it got it’s nickname.

On the third day we woke up bright and early and headed off to the Brookfield Zoo to learn more about Environmental Sustainability, a topic which is very important at this time in our world’s history. After learning more about this issue, and seeing some very neat exhibits, we ended the day with the planting of a tree; a promise that we too, in turn, will give back to the earth.

The fourth day was our day of action, a chance to volunteer in the community. All the girls were split into different groups, and then traveled to sites to work. Some volunteered at a hospital, others at a community garden, or at the zoo. I went and visited a sustainability center, where I learned a lot about different ways to make our own homes more sustainable. This really interested me to see how other people outside of the girl scouting community were working to achieve MDGs as well.

That night was International Night, one of my favorite experiences of the whole Forum. International Night was an opportunity for all the girls to share bits about their culture and where they were from. There was a stage where performances were going on- some girls sang songs from their countries, some performed dances, and some even led the audience in festive camp songs. As I watched these girls perform, I felt as I was getting a little glimpse into who they were,and the places that they came from. I have never been so engulfed in culture as I was that night, my eyes trying to take it all in, my head trying to appreciate the moment as much as I possibly could.

The fifth day focused on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. This issue especially intrigues me, so it was very interesting. We talked about what people all over the world are doing to make a difference, and what we could as well. We also talked about Leadership, and ways to be the most effective leader you can be. I learned many things that day that I think will continue to help me in the years to come.

That night we walked over to the ‘Bean’, one of Chicago’s most well known sculptures. It was great to be out in the city, with the feel of hustle and bustle humming in your veins, and the sounds so lively in your ears.

When the sixth, and final, day came around, it was hard to believe how fast the week had gone. I wasn’t ready for it to be over, wasn’t ready to leave these girls that had now become my friends in the span of a few days. But despite my nostalgia I made sure to enjoy the last day.

The day was focused on discussing effective Take Action plans that we could take back to our communities. The idea was that this conference would not end when we went home, but that it would only be beginning; that we would be taking our new found knowledge into the world and be using it to better our communities.

After we had talked about our plans, we got a chance to hear an amazing speaker named Dr.Tererai Trent. She told us her life story, about the challenges she faced, and about how she overcame them. I listened to her speak, but most of all I watched her. It was in the way she moved, in the way she spoke her words with a boldness and sincerity and honesty. Even after she left, I could still hear her words ringing in my ears. She had been so honest with us, and so
alive. Though I had not even heard of her before the GWF, I now have added her to a long list of women who inspire me.

That night was the closing ceremonies and celebration. There was a huge dance floor set up, and I’m pretty sure that every single girl there had a great time. We had, in a matter of days, become fast friends.

We left the next day, our heads full of new memories, our hearts full of new friendships. I will never forget the Girls World Forum. It broadened my mind, it widened my imagination, and it gave me connections to girls from all over the world. It made me realize that I am not alone in my mission to make a change and I now know that I have 600 women and girls to back me up.

We all left the Forum with a mission: to make our world a better place for all people. And I have no doubt that, in the words of Dr. Tererai Trent, ‘it is achievable’.