Bridging Cultures: Two Girl Scout Gold Award Projects Bring English Education to Burmese Refugee Children

HelenandMarie1 This is a guest post by Girl Scouts Helen and Marie.

We can’t believe four years ago we were 13-year-olds when we started our Catonsville, Maryland peer-to-peer (kids teaching kids) summer program as a pilot affiliated with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). We taught English and American Culture to Burmese refugee children. Our first year of the program we held a pilot. On our program’s second year, we were able to learn from the pilot and have a four week, three day program, earning us our Girl Scout Gold Awards. While completing our Gold Award projects, we learned and improved on time management, flexibility, budgeting, and working to match our volunteers’ strengths with certain tasks. To run our program, not only did we have to contact teenage volunteers, but also we had to convince them of their capabilities, have faith in them, and watch as they grew from unsure to confident, comfortable, and can-do teens. Our program didn’t just affect the Burmese-Chin children, who improved their English skills and started helping us recruit other Burmese kids into the program; it affected the volunteers. Our teenage volunteers and these children have gained relationships and experiences that neither we, nor anyone else involved in our program will forget.

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34 children participated in the program led by Helen and Marie

On Girl Scouts 100th year anniversary, we were chosen to represent Girl Scouts on Capitol Hill. We presented our Gold Award Projects, “English Kids to Kids” (EK2K) and “Bridging Cultures”(BC), to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. We never imagined that our program would reach such recognition. In our program’s third year, we, along with our volunteers, were invested in continuing our program even after completing the Girl Scout Gold Award. Now, on our fourth year, we have two summer programs running in two different locations (one in Catonsville and another in Savage, Howard County) teaching Burmese refugee children English and American Culture. We were contacted by the Howard County Government to help establish this second program as volunteer consultants and experts. With the help of the Howard County Government and various community church leaders, we were able to take charge and create this HoCo English summer program.

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Teen Volunteers helped facilitate the program

One obstacle we encountered during our HoCo English program occurred on the very last day. We planned to have the children write Thank You letters and have a party. Unfortunately, none of the kids came within the first hour. Knowing where they lived but not their phone numbers, we decided to drive around the neighborhood for them. It turned out that at the same time we were running our program, another program, teaching the Burmese children their own language and culture, was being held. After finding this other program, we saw all our kids! Because their parent’s had decided to have them there, we made the decision to move everything we needed into this other location and have them celebrate/write their Thank You notes during the other program’s lunch period. We would say this experience was the ultimate test of flexibility.

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Helen and Marie visited with Violet M. Apple, CEO of GSCM and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of GSUSA during Anna’s visit this past August.

Recently, we met with Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of GSUSA, Angela Olden, CFO of GSUSA, and Violet Apple, CEO of GSCM. We spoke to them about our four-year Burmese English project, and our hopes of actually extending the program into New York City, where GSUSA headquarters and IRC headquarters are located.

Girl Scouts has given us the confidence and skills to have a meeting with adults, have them recognize our abilities as individuals, and become the point people of a second program. We would like to thank Girl Scouts of Central Maryland for all the opportunities and skills it has given us over these past ten years. This is part of our story, and we know Girl Scouts has been and always will be there for us. We hope to accomplish so much more in the future.

Thank you Girl Scouts of Central Maryland!,

Marie & Helen, Mount Hebron High School rising Seniors

 

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Categories: Awards, Girl Scouts, Gold Award

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