My first experience with social networks was far from empowering…it was terrifying. When social networking was still in its infancy, a rapist connected with my 16 year old daughter on MySpace. Luckily for our family, the situation was resolved without her being physically harmed. For many women and girls in the world, safety remains an issue and barrier.
Fortunately, this experience didn’t scare me off from the worldwide web. This article details how I used digital tools as a catalyst for educating, engaging, inspiring and connecting a Girl Scout Troop for more than thirteen years by providing access to resources for creating exciting and meaningful experiences that literally impacted the world.
Internet resources allowed us to create virtual trips to other countries whereby 6 and 7 year old girls were introduced to new cultures and envisioned a world outside their own. Because of the easy access to information, these virtual trips were quite elaborate. They included finding mock passports to downloading actual airplane take-off and landing sound effects so the girls could experience flying abroad. After “landing” and “deboarding” the girls visited stations where they were able to make a craft, taste foods and learn games played by the children unique to that country. The girls “visited” Germany, Japan, Australia, Scotland, and Switzerland. As the girls became old enough to write letters, we expanded the activity to connect them with actual troops in Scotland and Japan and they became pen pals, learning about the lives of real girls around the world. Because our Girl Scout Troop became known for its creative cultural awareness experiences, when the girls were about 12 years old, they were asked to organize and lead the World Thinking Day activities for all the troops in our area of Southwest Ohio.
By the time the girls in our troop were in middle school, they were using digital tools to conduct service projects which aided children in other countries. Through the use of social media sites, they informed friends and relatives about the needs of children in other parts of the world and collected over 500 pairs of shoes to send to children so they could attend school. They also “adopted” a village in the hills of Jamaica and spent a year organizing clothing, personal care items and book drives online. They used the web to research fundraising ideas and opportunities as well as how to develop literacy programs for children ages 6-18. This culminated in our girls, then ages 13-15, traveling to Jamaica ( they raised ALL the funds for their trip) taking supplies and facilitating a 5 day literacy day camp for more than 200 children.
After learning unexpectedly that the village had a high incidence of HIV infection, these young women identified organizations online and connected with them locally to research, write, design, and create a video for the young adults of that village on how to prevent HIV infection. None of this could have been possible without the incredible resources of the worldwide web.
The troop continued to use digital tools to connect and communicate with local women’s organizations and leaders for research and developing meaningful programs through their high school years. Their final two years in scouting were spent connecting and partnering with area women’s businesses and organizations, state and national officials to design, coordinate and implement a day-long conference which engaged over 500 mothers and other women of influence with their pre-teen daughters in conversations about health, beauty and self-esteem.
The influence of the power of the digital tools did not end when the girls graduated high school. These young women remain engaged for girls and women worldwide through studying abroad, joining the Peace Corps, working with public health campaigns, or in the case of one incredibly brave young woman, developing an after school program for girls from the West Point slum in Liberia. She arrived home from Monrovia one month ago, at the beginning of the current Ebola international health emergency. She plans to go back. There is incredible potential for women and girls right now…and my life has been leading me to this moment, this cause…a vision of how we can accomplish so much more by working together. Through connecting more fully, using current and creating new digital tools, I believe wholeheartedly that women will save the world.WWW: Women Weave the Web