Peace VS Evil

Namaste everyone!

It’s almost Christmas! Sangam is decorated, the stockings are hung, and there are even lights on our tree. In this season of cheer and happiness and family and all those awesome things, I wanted to share with you all some ways you can give back this holiday season.

1. Kiva.org

Kiva is an awesome mico-loan website that I use myself. You can choose an entrepreneur in an underdeveloped country and give loans of as little as $25. They collect $25 loans from all over the world and put them together to give the amount asked for. Then, your loan gets repaid over time, and you can re-lend the same $25 over and over to different people. It’s a really easy way to help and it’s great because it can keep on giving again and again. I have about $75 rolling in my account right now, and I’ve made 7 $25 loans.

2. The Uncultured Project

The Uncultured Project is literally one dude (Shawn Ahmed) who wants to make a difference. He works by creating partnerships with people all over the world by using the power of the internet and YouTube to find people who need help, and people who are willing to help. He works mostly in Bangladesh, where he recently built a school and named it in honor of John Green, one of my very favorite authors and awesome-makers. There’s a video about it here.

3. Girl Scouts of course!

Whether it’s by donating money, buying cookies, or volunteering your time, by supporting Girl Scout you are supporting the amazing organization that lets me have this great opportunity to live and work in India. WAGGGS works organizations like the UN to support issues that affect women and children around the world. By lifting up and empowering girls, you are supporting the future world-changers.

On that note, I want to share something that I’ve been thinking about since I heard about the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. I wasn’t as bombarded with images and and interviews as I’m sure everyone back home was, but being here, doing all this work around girl and women, and after hearing that eight of the girls killed were Daisy Girl Scouts, I was really upset.

I’m the kind of person who always, always tries to look on the positive side. Or at least find a positive side to things. I don’t think I can do that here.

All I can say is that instead of trying to fight against this evil, I try to work for the advancement of all the good things. For the empowerment of women and girls, for the reduction of child mortality, and everything else WAGGGS is doing. Every kid deserves all the every chance to grow and do whatever he wants, and achieve all her goals. So the only thing I can try and say to be positive is that by working with organizations like WAGGGS and Girl Scouts and here at Sangam is helping to do just that. By helping one young woman realize her own potential, maybe she’ll grow up and so the same for another girl, and help spread peace in the world. And maybe, someday, the peace will outweigh the evil.

That’s all from me, thanks for reading, and please comment if you have any questions about any of the organizations I talked about today.

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Yours in scouting,

Ana Cristina

Getting the Word Out: Is this just my job disguised as a blog post?

Namaste readers!

So, I have something a little bit work-related to discuss today. As the event just ended, and I’m officially done with training, I’m jumping right in and trying to get as much done each day as possible. A lot of my job is just trying to reach the right people with the right information. We have a deadline for volunteer & intern applications coming up (December 31st) and not enough applicants. Sangam already has in place communications with people in high levels of each of WAGGGS member organizations (countries that have girl scouts or girl guides), so I’m trying to work from the other side, and getting the information directly to the troop/group leaders or even the girls themselves. So many young women from all over the world have visited Sangam over almost 50 years, and they all know other girls who might be interested, and so on.

Now, I could go on for a few more paragraphs (ok, actually, I just did, but then I deleted them because it was way too long and boring for you to read), but I’ll just get straight to my point. I made this video today, and I want every Girl Scout and Girl Guide that I know to share it with all her Girl Scout and Girl Guide friends, and I want them to ask me about Sangam and world centers and other travel opportunities. I want them to ask their leaders and their leaders to share what they learn with the whole troop. I want girls to learn what Advocacy means and how they can start a Community Action Project of their own. These are my big Girl Scout dreams, and being here has just re-energized me and reminded me of these goals.

Sangam’s Youtube
Sangam’s Facebook
WAGGGS’ Take Action Pagemy email is aclesmez@hotmail.com or leave me a comment on this post if you are a Girl Scout or Guide looking for more information.

I promise my next post will have more pictures!

Thanks for reading,

Ana Cristina

Day 5: The End :(

The last day 😦  I’m sad just remembering it.  At breakfast, we heard from GSUSA’s international commissioner.  She talked about international friendship and the great work the girls are doing here.

After a bit more confusion about where we were supposed to go, we headed to the Advocacy Expo Hall.  Different organizations had tables set up to be resources for the girls to possibly use to execute their actions plans.  This was a really great idea, but some of the representatives were late, and there were way too many girls in the hall with not enough stations to visit.  The four WAGGGS World Centres were represented, and there was always a big crowd around their table.  I am, obviously, a huge fan of girls traveling to the World Centres, and I’m glad they were so represented at GWF, I think a lot of girls found out about them and about the volunteer opportunities they offer.  I talked to a lot of girls and young chaperones about my volunteer experience so hopefully some of them will look into going to Sangam or another World Centre.  Also represented in the hall was Heifer International, which is a great group that I have worked with before that donates livestock to communities in developing countries and helps to teach them how to make them a sustainable source of food and/or income.  Also the peace corps, the UN, and Feeding America were represented.

Ali & Julia in the Expo Hall

The next session was a listening session with a member Secretary Clinton’s youth council staff.  It was great to learn about this program and that the Secretary is interested in hearing from America’s youth.  While she gave some great info in her introduction the second part half of the session was supposed to be for the girls to present their Take Action Plans and to get advice.  Some girls lined up to present, and I loved hearing their plans since I hadn’t had a chance to hear any of them before, but besides giving out her contact information, the speaker didn’t seem to know a lot about the topics the girls were interested in.  Some of the girls had really great project ideas, like helping victims of sexual violence, creating better ecotourism, and creating a head-start-like program for preschoolers.  I can’t wait to hear how they all turn out, there were some really awesome ideas presented.  Not everyone got a chance to present who wanted to since the previous session had run long, but the girls who did present did a great job.

Then, it was closing ceremony time.  I found Ali and Julia (somehow) and we all sat together.  The keynote speaker was Tererai Trent, a very extraordinary woman.  She was raised in a small village in Zimbabwe, was married very young, but had dreams of coming to America to go to college.  She wasn’t allowed to go to school like her brother, but would do his homework in secret and taught herself to read from his schoolbooks.  With amazing encouragement from her mother, she buried her dreams in a box and grew them into reality.  She, with her five children, came to the US and she is now Dr. Tererai Trent.  She is an incredible speaker, and when another amazing woman, Oprah Winfrey, heard her inspiring story, she helped her spread it.  Oprah has helped Tererai build nine school in her country, to help all girls and boys grow their dreams, whatever they may be.
http://www.oprah.com/world/Tererai-Trent-Returns-to-Zimbabwe-to-Share-Her-Story-Video
If you ever have a chance to hear this woman speak, you have to do so.  She is so inspiring, so encouraging, and makes you believe you can do anything.  And then go out and do it!

Next they relieved the puzzle pieces the girls had decorated with their representations of their Action Plans.  Ali and Julia want to expand the recycling and composting we do at our GSHOM camps, and get lots of girls involved in it.

The puzzle piece representing GSHOM’s action plan

We ended the ceremony with a closing flag, and one last giant round of applause.  It was sad of course, but also exciting because I know what a great experience the girls and I all had, and now we get the chance to go to our homes all over the world and spread what we learned to our families (and our scouting and guiding sisters) and communities.

After a packing/nap break, was dinner and the dance party!  There was a salsa dance club from Chicago that came and performed and also did a lesson, so that was really fun, especially for Julia and I since we used to do hispanic dance club in high school.  It was a great party, but probably my favorite part was the ice cream bar 🙂

Finally got a picture with Jen!

Ali got this awesome Girl Scout “tattoo”!

I, feeling old, went to bed early, but the party was really fun and the girls danced the night away.  It was a great way to end a great week.

The next day before our train left, we took a walk down to Navy Pier since we never got a chance to see it during the week.  It was REALLY hot that day, so we pretty much just walked down, ate lunch, and walked back.  I stopped quickly to put my feet in the other side of Lake Michigan than usual, but it was definitely too hot to be on the beach.  Here are some pictures from our adventure.

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Our journey home was pretty uneventful, which is a good thing.  I was pretty tired at work the next day, but it was so worth it.  I learned so much and I made great connections with young women from all over the world.  This was a different role for me as a “chaperone” for older girls.  It wasn’t like being a brownie camp counselor (although I must admit I did head counts occasionally) or a programme volunteer at Sangam.  I embraced the “girl-led” philosophy of Girl Scouting and let the girls decide and plan a lot of their activities, and they really stepped up to the plate.  I’ve said it before, but I’m really glad that Ali and Julia were both able to make it with the short notice that I gave them.  They both gave 100% all the time, and truly appreciated every minute of the conference.  They rolled with the punches so to speak as far as logistical issues and most of the time knew where they were supposed to be better than I did.  I’m really proud of both of them and look forward to seeing how they change the world in their own ways in the future.

Thank you all for reading, I really appreciate it.  I would love for you to keep following (subscribe on the right side if you haven’t already) for my future girl scout related travels.  I’m actually currently in London visiting guiding friends and pax lodge and the olympics and will be writing about it soon.  If you’re a volunteer leader or girl scout parent and would like more specific information on anything I’ve mentions check out my links page or feel free to email me or comment below, I would love to talk to you!

Your sister in scouting,

Ana Cristina

Day 4: Sessions

Sunday was full of sessions. Sessions and yawns. After such a full day of work and partying at International Night, everyone was struggling to keep their eyes open. So, after an all but silent breakfast, the chaperones and I were off to our choice of different leadership and skill building sessions. I chose Evaluation and Assessment, Working with the Media, MDG 1: Poverty and Hunger, and Building Community Partnerships, in that order. Most of these sessions were designed to help us to help support the girls in the Take Action Projects.

Evaluation and Assessment
In this session we learned the difference between evaluation (checking your progress during your project) and assessment (analysis of your project when it is complete). That was about it, we got some worksheets with tips for going over this with our girls. We ended early, but not early enough to sneak in a nap.

Working with the Media
I was interested in this session for my upcoming job at Sangam, and because I’m always interested in learning how people are using social media. This blog has surprised me in how many people in different places it has reached and reaffirmed my belief that social media is something that Girl Scouts should be embracing to grow and sustain older girl membership. I would have liked to get a few more tips on exactly how to use sites like twitter, tumblr, flickr and such, but is was a great overview and informative for some people who don’t use these sites as much as I do. We watched this video about how social media is affecting our world.

MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
This session was about how to introduce this MDG to your girls. I chose to do this one because out of the three offered, it was the one I personally know the least about. Learn more about the WAGGGS MDG program here. I actually did learn a lot about in this session. The UN definition of poverty is families living on less that $1 per day, and that a disproportionate number of impoverished people are women and girls, about 70%. The statistic that sparked the most discussion in my group was that the world does produce enough food to feed everyone on it, it’s just not getting distributed properly. We did an activity where each group got a different amount of money to feed a different amount of people for a week. We had to think about cost and also nutrition. My group did alright with $35 for three people, but each group was different. This would be a great activity for a troop to do and then compare answers. This slideshow goes very well with this activity.
Then we went into the hall for another activity. We made a big circle with a small circle of about five people in the middle and one person on the outside. The five people in the middle represent the people living in poverty. The large circle represents everyone else, who have enough to eat and who don’t really think about the people going hungry in the middle. The one person on the outside is trying to help the people on the inside but they have this barrier of apathy between them. The idea for the people inside to break out with the help of the person on the outside. This was a fun game, and shows how hard it is to break out of the cycle of poverty. It was a great session and I learned a lot.

Now, I have a confession to make. After lunch was my last session of the day. I could barely keep my eyes open during lunch, and I knew it was going to be another late night running around Chicago on a scavenger hunt. So, after lunch, I went up to my room to sleep instead of going to my session. I feel bad that the girls were in sessions all day, but I really needed the sleep.
That night was the Chicago scavenger hunt. It was really fun and I have a lot of pictures so I’ll do a separate post for that.
Now that the Forum is over, I’m trying to think of ways to keep all of you who are reading this connected. I’m still thinking on it, but feel free to comment with how you would like to stay involved.
Yours in scouting,
Ana Cristina

Day 3 Again: More Action

While Ali and I were on Iron Street, Julia worked the an organization called Chicago Cares.  They run different volunteer projects throughout the city.  The one she was working on was a community garden on the south side of the city in a neighborhood where about 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.  There is no true grocery store in the area, and until very recently, the only place to get food was McDonalds.

This garden is on land donated by a church.  Inside the garden there are 10×10 ft. plots that anyone on the community can use to plant their gardens.  Some of the Girl Scouts were working on creating new plots and getting them ready to plant.  There is a community shed (built out of old church doors) with tools and the group provides seed and can connect you with gardeners to help you get started.  The girls were working on weeding the outside part of the garden, between the garden and the sidewalk.  This section of the garden is maintained by volunteers and anyone walking by is encouraged to take what they need.  They grow different herbs, tomatoes, carrots, peppers and such.

Chicago Cares is starting another section of this garden to help the church’s existing food bank to provide them with fresh fruits and veggies.  One thing that many food banks are missing is fresh produce, since it is hard to store and keep fresh.

I don’t have pictures from Chicago Cares, but hopefully someone will upload some to the flickr site.  There’s not much on their right now, except mine, but we’re spreading the word around the conference about it so there should be more up soon, so check back.

Today is the last day of the conference.  When it all started I thought this would be a long week.  But as always with great experiences, it has flown by and I’m left wishing there were more sessions to go to, more meals to eat with new friends, and more nights to spend not sleeping but strengthening friendships.  I will do a more in depth wrap-up later, but I just wanted to say to anyone who is here, I have loved meeting you and I want to stay connected to you and all the amazing things you and your girls are going to be doing in the coming year and beyond.

Thank you for reading and as always yours in Scouting,
Ana Cristina

Day 3: External Action

Day three was action day. Woo hoo!!

We split up into six groups and took our trusty buses out to different action sites to do service and learn about different programs happening around Chicago. Ali and I went to Iron Street Farm, the Chicago center of an organization called Growing Power. Julia went to a community garden set up by Chicago Cares, an organization that sets up different volunteer opportunities around the city.

I really enjoyed this trip. We arrived and right away started working. We shoveled wood chips, which are “donated” (dropped off) by tree cutting companies, into wheelbarrows and took them to the greenhouses.

Ali and I working hard on Iron Street!

These woodchips are the foundation for the farm. Most of the area they plan on is concrete, so they lay down the woodchips and then soil over top of it to plant on.

Just a small bit of the area we covered

After working for about an hour, we broke for lunch. We took full advantage of the AC on the bus and I had some great conversations with other chaperones and volunteers about working with council on these international and WAGGGS initiatives.  Some councils are establishing a WAGGGS liaison position, and I think that is wonderful.  I hope it becomes commonplace for girls, and adults for that matter, to know what the pins they wear on their uniform represent.

WAGGGS pin that every Girl Scout and Girl Guide wears on her uniform

After lunch, we got a tour of the entire facility at Iron Street.  Our tour guide was Erica, one of the staff members.  She was a really great guide, very knowledgeable about everything they are doing, and she explained it in a way that even I, who know next to nothing about gardening or farming, could understand it.

Our awesome tour guide Erica!

In the picture above, Erica is standing in front of their compost pins.  They are made from repurposed wooden pallets and screens.  They layer woodchips and compost material (food waste minus meat, dairy and bread) in the bins to create the compost for the entire farm.  They get the food waste from restaurants, breweries, and the community at large.

Just a note, I’ve been looking around the Growing Power website and it has a lot of great information on all this stuff if it is something you’d like to learn more about.

Next we went inside to see some the vermiculture.  Vermiculture is pretty much partially decomposed compost with worms in it.  The worms speed up the process by eating and…well, pooping.  They can eat their weight each day, and reproduce fairly quickly.  Again, there is really great info about these worms and the process on their website.

Ali exploring the vermiculture

Next up:  aquaponics.  What?  Yeah, that’s what I said.  Basically, it’s a system where water circulates with a pump from a fish tank on the bottom up to plants on pallets on top.  The pallets are on a small incline, so small that you can’t really tell in the picture, so that the water flows down.

Aquaponics system

The pump just moves the water, it doesn’t need to be cleaned because the fish poo helps fertilize the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish.  Growing Power then sells the fish and the watercrest (or whatever they grow on top) to help funding.  Here’s a picture of the top, where the watercrest is growing.

Top plant part of the aquaponics

Erica said that aquaponics is very easy to scale up or to scale down.  If you already have fish tank at home you could easily add plants on top, or you could make a system even bigger and raise bigger fish.  At Growing Power they mostly raise tilapia and yellow perch.

Ever heard of a mushroom chandelier?  Well neither had I until I went to Iron Street.  In order to be more space-efficient, Growing Power plants their mushrooms hanging from the ceiling.  They layer mycelium (mushroom “seeds”) and woodchips in bags, then hang them up.  After a while, they cut holes in the bags which the mushrooms (mostly oyster mushrooms) grow out of in bunches.  None were sprouting just then, but here are the chandeliers.

Do you think these would go well in my foyer?

Ever efficient, Iron Street has even used its roof to house six bee colonies.  They produce 150 pounds of honey each year per colony, which they again sell.  They also use the beeswax to make candles and beauty products.

Bees on the roof

So, I would like to say a special thanks to Growing Power for letting us visit and showing us around.  They are a really great organization helping to show that you can grow your own food sustainably anywhere.  I encourage you to check out their website and take a closer look at where the food you eat is coming from.

I’ll write more about Julia’s experience tomorrow, and try and find someone who has pictures of her.

Thank you all for reading, tomorrow I’ll write about International Night which was so awesome, and there will be great pictures.  If you can’t get enough GWF, check out the brand new flickr site, which will hopefully be updated all the time as word gets passed around here that it exists.  Most of my pictures are up there, as well as some from the WAGGGS photographers here.

Don’t forget to comment and subscribe, 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…

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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

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