Day 2: sustainability at the Brookfield Zoo

Hey there readers!
What a crazy day! It started with 6am wake up call that I didn’t order, then a ten minute nap before it was time to meet the girls for a grab and go breakfast and get on the buses. Or that was the plan. After everyone figured out where they were supposed to be, (chaperones and girls had been told different things the day before) we got our boxed breakfasts and formed a giant line outside. After waiting another 20 minutes (the busses were caught in traffic) out on the sidewalk, we finally boarded and got on the road according to Julia 53 minutes behind schedule.
Once we arrived at the zoo, we went straight to the dolphin building. Our bus got in a bit late (but not as late as some others) so we missed the very beginning, but we were talking about conservation. The Brookfield Zoo, like most other zoos around the country, is making a big push for environmental sustainability. They are using their position as an attraction to educate their patrons on ways they can help save the animals they come to see. We walked in in the middle of a speech about aluminum, which they were calling the “most recycleable metal”. They brought up that in Europe you can get a tax credit for recycleing your aluminum car. That made me think about the MI 10 cent refund on aluminum. Almost everyone I know recycles their cans. My roommate and I used to save them up and use the refunds to buy meijer live goldfish and accessories for its tank. Incentives like these are just one of the ways we are learning that governments can help to cultivate change.
After a few more zoo employees spoke, we got to see the dolphin show.  It was awesome, and they showed us some of the behaviors that the teach the dolphins in order for the vets to more easily examine them.

The dolphin show at Brookfield Zoo

Fittingly, the next session we went to was about water conservation. The first activity was I think one that Ali has done before, but it was a good way to put water conservation into perspective.  They began with a 2.5 gallon bucket of water.  This represented all the water in the world.  The girls then took out one cup, and this represented all the fresh water in the world.  Next, they took out 6 milliliters and this represented all the underground water that most of us drink from.  This really showed how precious of a resource water is.  Being from Michigan we usually don’t think about this since all we have to do is turn around and there’s a lake, but again, that’s another advantage of being here with people from so many other places who can tell their own stories about water shortages.

Water Activity

One of the zoo employees works with, a place where you can find out about how much water you use, and what you can do to reduce it.  She did a short presentation for the girls, so they can add it to the list of their resources if they choose to do their Take Action Project around MDG 7:  Together we can save the planet.

The next session, in the air conditioned Discovery Center, was also good for resources.  A representative from Little Brownie Bakers, one of the two bakeries that makes Girl Scout Cookies, talked about palm oil.  I know a little bit about this because there were two girls from Ann Arbor, Michigan who really pushed to get sustainable palm oil into our Girl Scout Cookies, an amazing example of taking a stand and advocating.

The next presentation centered around big cats and their habitats.  We learned about the Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that, among other things, certifies different paper products that use wood from sustainable sources.  Again, these are great resources for the girls to collect and research the ones that apply to their projects or interests.

After lunch (we couldn’t find the FSC logo on the paper plates, but they were recyclable!), we had what everyone had been waiting for…free time!  I took around a group of eight girls (I almost made them walk in a buddy line, but decided against it), and we went to see the giraffes.

Giraffes at Brookfield Zoo

We also saw the aardvark, but it was really hard to take a picture of, and these camels, but we couldn’t ride them like you can at Potter Park.

Camels at Brookfield Zoo

Fortunately the girls were better at reading maps than I was, so we made it back in time for our next session on climate change.  To be honest with you, at this point I was watching the sky turn to grey and chatting with some other chaperones, so I’m not positive what exactly was discussed, but they did talk about the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, and rising worldwide temperatures.

Then, something amazing happened.  It started to rain.

Join me again tomorrow for the conclusion of this zoo story, and hopefully the beginning of another.  This forum has given me so many stories to tell, and so little time to share them with you.  It is currently past midnight, and I’m very excited for my sessions tomorrow so I should probably go to bed.  I’m sorry I’m not caught up yet, but believe me it will be worth it to stick around, I still have to tell you about a sing-along with the closest thing to a rock star that Girl Scouts has, and international night.

Goodnight for now, yours in Scouting,

Ana Cristina

Want to hear more about something? Less about something? Please comment (up top by the date) and let me know what you like!


Day 1 Once More: Double Decker Bus Tour

I promised you pictures and here they are!  Sorry that I am falling further and further behind each day, but there is so much to do here that it leaves little time for…well, anything else.

After dinner Thursday, we flooded the elevators once more and made our way down to the lobby for a Double Decker bus tour of Chicago. As always, transition was a mess, so the girls and I ended up on different buses. This turned out better for them than for me, my tourguide was that stereotypical really bad-joke telling tour guide who used to be a weatherman in Texas (really, I know more about his life story than the architecture of the city) but the girls were sitting on the top and and had a much better tour guide. Here are some of their pictures.

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Day 1 Continued: It All Pays Off

Hello all,
I just want to say a big hello to all my new readers, and also thank you to everyone who has shared this blog with sister Girl Scouts, and a special shout-out to the parents of girls here at the Forum from across the country and the world. I’m so glad you’re reading and your girls are wonderful.

Continuing from yesterday, right before dinner there was a scheduled “reflection” time for chaperones and girls to meet up and discuss what they had learned. I had prepared some questions and prompts to get the girls talking, and then I texted them (our main form of communication here) to meet up in my room. Turns out I had no need for questions at all, both Ali and Julia started talking and didn’t stop until I realized we were already late for dinner. They talked about all the different people they had met, and the changes they were ready to make in the world. Perhaps my favorite thing they said was about communication. Julia is in a breakout room that is run primarily in Spanish. The Forum runs in the 4 official WAGGGS languages, English, Spanish, Arabic and French. So in Julia’s room, the facilitator speaks in Spanish, and then a translator says it in English. At Julia’s table, she is the only one who speaks English as a first language. But instead of being frustrated by these barriers, the girls are leaping over them like they aren’t even there. Julia has some Spanish skills and the other girls all know English to varying degrees. Even if they had to go through multiple translations, everyone was speaking and giving their ideas and sharing their expertise. I was so impressed, especially because we had some translation issues in the chaperone room, and even once split up the tables by language so we could more easily communicate. I hope we as adults learn from the experience of our girls and make an effort to mix ourselves up more. If you only ever communicate with those who speak the same language as you do, you are missing an incredible number of ideas, strategies, and friendships. There’s no excuse for it, and the girls taught me that today.

Hearing how excited the girls were and how inspired to change the world, all my reservations disappeared. I was worried about them making friends, the language issues that we had in the chaperone session, the general disorganization of the schedule, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think I underestimated the ability of the girls. Not their intellect or their ideas, but I know that a lot of them haven’t been in this type of conference/forum encironment before. It’s a lot different than camp or many of the other things girl scouts do. But I was, of course, dead wrong. As they have already demonstrated, the girls are even better at this than we are.

And if I may brag a bit, having overheard some elevator gossip, my girls from Heart of Michigan are especially great. Some other chaperones were saying how their reflection sessions were not as inspiring as mine, that the girls were tired and got bored in their sessions. Although I was sad to hear this, I know that those girls, throughout the week, will grow so much, and learn from their sisters and their chaperones will be just as proud of them as I am of Ali and Julia for truly taking advantage of this geeat opportunity we have been given.  No matter what level you are at right now, by the end of the week you will have grown so much, and that’s the whole idea.

My girls are also dealing well with the organizational issues I eluded to before. A lot of the time we’re not sure where we are supposed to be or what our groups are or what our options are. But despite all this, just being here with such an international group, sometimes the waiting time when the facilitators are coping with various obstacles is even more informational because we’re connecting with each other and sharing our successes and failures in various programs with girls in our countries or councils.

I am so glad you are all reading, and I hope the stories of what these girls are doing inspires you to support or continue to support them. I promise my next post will include pictures!  But please keep reading, because these girls, with the projects they create here and the ideas planted in their heads here, will change the world, so this story has a happy ending.

Yours in scouting,
Ana Cristina GSHOM

Day 1: Welcome Ceremony and Ali Arrives

Hey there!

Even after two posts yesterday there was still more to say.  Julia met her roommate who is from Italy, and mine is the chaperone from Hungary.  We’ve spent little time in our rooms (minus sleeping time) so we haven’t had much time to talk with them yet, but I’m sure we will throughout the week.

This morning we had the official opening ceremony for the Forum.  After an impromptu dance party lead by CEO Anna Maria Chávez (she is awesome!), we began as any good Girl Scout ceremony should, with a flag ceremony.  The flag of every country represented here was brought in by a girl from that country and read out.

After the flags, the girl planning team welcomed us.  The planning team is the group of 17 Girl Scouts who planned this event.  They have been working on it for more than a year and I can only imagine how they feel that it’s finally happening and all their work is finally paying off.  They are all very eloquent and seem like great girls, and I look forward to meeting them during the week, and they are a great inspiration to all the delegates.

The first speaker was Melinda Caroll, a Girl Scout Celebrity if there is such a thing.  If you are a Girl Scout, you have heard Melinda’s music and sang her songs.  We sang an African greeting song with her and also “I am One Voice”, which is a song I learned at Sangam and I think is a great metaphor for WAGGGS, being a global sisterhood, growing from one voice to 10 million.

After the singing, Anna Maria and Connie spoke again, as well as the CEO of the Greater Chicago and Northern Indiana Council, who are sponsoring the Forum.  We also watched some great videos about Millennium Development Goals 1, 3, and 7, that the girls will be working on here and at home.  We got CD’s with all the videos so I will try and post them at some point, but possibly not until I get home.

Following the ceremony, we had our first forum sessions.  Now, the chaperones (me) are participating in a “parallel program” where we learn how to support the girls in their work, and also do our own leadership development and networking.  So at this point, I can give you highlights of my program, but I don’t know much about the girls’ sessions except for the name of it.  I would love to have them guest write for me, but I don’t want to put any more work on their plate than they already have, so once I catch up with them I’ll fill you all in as much as I can.

As for my morning session, a lot of it was answering questions and figuring out logistical things.  We talked about the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which I know a bit about from working at Sangam as a lot of the sessions I ran there were also focused on them.  We talked about how WAGGGS and also GSUSA have taken the UN MDG’s and developed curriculum specifically designed for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides centering on the MDG issues.  If this is something you want to know more about, please click the links provided and/or contact me, I would LOVE to talk to you about how to use these resources with your girls.

I left this session a few minutes early to meet Ali, who was arriving from a Gold Award camp.  We got her all checked in and went right to Chicago-style lunch-deep dish pizza and hot dogs.  Yum!

After lunch I sent Ali off to find her patrol, and I went back to chaperone sessions.  This one was all about being “WAGGGS Champions” back in our councils, which is literally what I’m all about.  I say this all the time, but SO MANY of our girls and leaders don’t know what WAGGGS is, even though they wear the pin on their uniform.  We talked about the benefits of being members of a global organization, both for ourselves and for our girls.  I picked up tons of new buzz words, like “broadening horizons”, “global awareness”, “sisterhood”, and “WAGGGS Champions”.  I’m trying really hard right now not to type out my entire Benefits of WAGGGS speech, I could go on for paragraphs.  Again, if you’re a leader and want more information on introducing your girls to WAGGGS/international Girl Scouting, please contact me and I can give you more information.

One thing I would like to talk about, it is my blog after all, is USA Girl Scouts Overseas (USAGSO).  These are girls who are US citizens living in other countries but who are still members of GSUSA.  I talked in my Day 0 post about meeting one of them from Jordan, and there are some others here as well.  A lot of them are children of military families, diplomats, or whose parents work for big international companies.  They often have very small troops or are Juliettes (“lone” Girl Scouts).  Especially for those from military families who move around a lot, Girl Scouting can be one of those important constants in their lives, even when so many other things change with each move.  Some of the most vocal, community-involved, courageous Girl Scouts I’ve met have been with USAGSO, and I think it’s a great branch of our organization.

I’m going to stop here for now, partially because we have a very early morning tomorrow and I want to get to bed, and because I don’t want this to go on too long.  I’ve learned a little more about what the girls learned in their sessions today, and I’m very excited to tell you about it, but like all good things it will have to wait.  I can tell now that I’m going to get behind, but I am trying and I am keeping notes so I won’t forget.

As always please comment to let me know what you’re interested in hearing about so I can focus more on those topics, please tell your friends, and share this blog with anyone you think might like it.  I love hearing from you!

Yours in scouting,

Ana Cristina

Girls’ World Forum day 0: Hello Again!

Wow, two posts on one day?  This is crazy!  Looking at the schedule it looks pretty packed so don’t expect this every day, but today is special.  In more ways than one.

Today is special because it is the beginning of an amazing, unique, life-changing experience for the hundreds of girls and young women who are at the moment in this hotel with me.  In the next week, we will meet each other, learn from each other, teach each other, and create plans and plant seeds that will, honestly and truly, change the world.

At dinner tonight, we heard from both the Connie Lindsey and Anna Maria Chávez, the National President and CEO of GSUSA, respectively.  They were both amazing speakers and inspired me, and I’m sure the rest of the women in the room.  It was almost the first time since getting off the train that I had sat down and taken a moment to let everything sink in, the fact that girls and women from over 90 countries were here, in this room, right now, and we were all sisters.  Paraphrasing from Anna Maria (AKA Girl Scout Eagle One), wherever we, as Girl Scouts and Girl Guides, go in the world, we have sisters.  Sisters with whom we may not share a language, a skin color, an economic class, a family structure, or much of anything at all, except that we all promise the same thing at our Scouting or Guiding meetings.  To be friendly, helpful, care for others, and responsible citizens.  That at least, is a place to start.  And where you end up is with a brand-new sister.

I took a video of part of Anna Maria’s speech, but I’m having trouble uploading it, hopefully I’ll figure it out soon so you all can see it.  Instead, here’s a picture the girls and I took at the weird photo booth on the street earlier today…


You took the picture and then you could email it to yourself…for free!

Talk to you all tomorrow, I can’t wait for Ali to get here and get started with all the learning!

-Ana Cristina

Girls’ World Forum Day 0: Travel and Arrival

8:28 am:  Julia and I board the train in East Lansing.  Due to a last minute conflict, Ali will be joining us tomorrow morning, but it’s ok because her conflict was Girl Scout related 🙂  Our train was on time (even early) so we sleepily boarded, both wearing particularly awesome sunglasses.


Thanks to Julia’s mom for the photo!

The train ride was great, with all the perks of NOT being a plane; bigger aisles, bigger seats, you don’t have to check your bags, a snack car, and no delays on the tarmac.  I would fully recommend Amtrak as an alternative to flying if time allows for your next vacation.

We arrived at Chicago’s Union Station on time, and immediately found the GWF volunteer waiting for us in her green shirt.  She welcomed us and introduced us to AJ, who would “help us with our transportation to the hotel”.  Little did we know what that meant.  We followed AJ around to the other side of the station, as he responded to the incoherent buzz from his walkie-talkie.  He suddenly pointed across the road and said, “there”.  I looked and saw a black towncar, only missing the embassy flags.  I thought I must be looking in the wrong place, but was amazed when he lead us to that very towncar and helped us put our bags in the back and opened the door for us.  Julia and I exchanged excited glances as we sat in the incredibly roomy black leather interior of the car, while our driver, who I half expected to be wearing a secret-service earpiece (he wasn’t) drove us to the Chicago Downtown Marriott.  It was a great welcome to the city, and we felt very official.

Once at the hotel, we did all the boring check-in things you have to do at every conference, and already have doubled the size of our baggage with all the goodies.  We got t-shirts, magazines, bags, flyers, binders….and these awesome backpacks.


Lunch was provided, so we sat down in a hallway where a few other groups were also eating.  As we ate and perused our conference info (I finally got to see the Chaperone schedule) we met Laila, “The only Girl Scout in Jordan”.  She lives in Jordan with her family but is part of Girl Scouts Overseas, so she is a fellow member of GSUSA.  We all ate lunch together and got to know each other, and once we had finished, decided to see the city together, since we had some time to kill before our rooms would be ready.  Our hotel is walking distance from Millennium Park, and my favorite Chicago landmark is of course The Bean, so we wandered down Michigan Ave, and I thought about how different it is from the Michigan Ave in East Lansing.  I remembered the debacle about the new downtown building being four stories or five and wondered what it would be like if they decided to build buildings like this in EL.


Here are a few pictures from the park, I’m sure I’ve already written to much and not showed enough pictures…


The famous “Bean”


Because no one has ever taken this exact photo before…


Julia and Laila

Then we headed back to the hotel, of course stopping off for souvenirs first.  Our rooms were ready, so we moved our now large amount of luggage up to the 15th floor, excited to meet our roommates, but none of them had arrived to the rooms yet.  I left Julia and Laila to settle in and came down the lobby to write this.  I have a chaperone meeting in a few minutes, so I’ll finish up and let you be just as excited as I am for tomorrow!

Please forgive any typos or run-ons I may have made, I didn’t edit, just wrote!

As always, comment, share with your friends, and do a good deed every day, even if you’re not a Girl Scout!

–Ana Cristina

Girls’ World Forum/Updates from Ana

Hi there!

It’s been so long!  I wasn’t very good at keeping up with this blog the rest of my time in India, I was so busy!  But the good news is I’m going back again!  I will be returning to Sangam in November to be the Marketing and Communications Intern.  It’s a five month term, so I’ll be there for longer than before, and my job will be more computer-centered so hopefully it will inspire me to keep this blog up.

But, before I get too into talking about India, I am going later this month to attend the Girls’ World Forum in Chicago, the third WAGGGS world forum to celebrate it’s centenary.  There’s more info about it here.  I will be leading a delegation of two girls from East Lansing to represent GSHOM.  Each US council is invited to send a delegation as well as each of WAGGGS other Member Organizations (member countries).  More than 80 council and 90 countries will be represented, and it will be the first international scouting experience for the GSHOM girls.  I’m so excited to meet Girl Guides and Scouts from all over the world, and to work on the Millennium Development Goals.

The forum is July 12-16, and we’ll be in Chicago the 11th to the 17th.  I’ll try and post every day, and I will also be taking over the GSHOM Facebook page during that time.

As always, subscribe to get email updates every time I post, tell your friends, and comment!

Yours in scouting,

Ana Cristina

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