Reflections in Girl Scouting by Davina Durgana

     In today’s world, as former gender-based societal roles and structures are becoming increasingly obsolete, girls are playing more prominent roles in public leadership, community life, and civil society development. Now, when young, single mothers comprise the majority of breadwinners for American families, we will soon see a new generation of young women that will no longer have any inhibitions about what they can achieve as long as empowering organizations focused on the development of young women persist. Girl Scouts of the USA, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, not only continues to defy cultural normative values placed on young women, but has encouraged them to follow their aspirations to achieve more than they may have previously believed to be possible. Young girls can grow up to become firefighters, PhD candidates, first responders, anti-human trafficking advocates and specialists, and play important roles in our military. These aspirations are supported by the comprehensive Girl Scout program.

     This has not only become my personal experience and story, but I attribute many of my accomplishments to the values and character that Girl Scouts instilled in me from a very early age. When my parents enrolled me as a Daisy at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Dix Hills, NY, I am certain that none of us could have foreseen where their support and encouragement would lead. From kindergarten until junior year of high school when I earned my Gold Award, I have been a Girl Scout through and through. I believe I have benefitted tremendously from this exposure to strong female role models and camaraderie among my peers. Through countless cookie sales, badges, trips to NY’s Rocking Horse Ranch and my first sleepovers at Hershey Park and at the Science Museum, I began to develop leadership and team-building skills. These lessons were integral to the leadership roles I would later take as I went to college and continued to give back to young women in very similar ways to how countless women supported me as a Girl Scout. Throughout my time as an undergraduate at The George Washington University, I became a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters, a specialist for National Court-Appointed Special Advocates of D.C., a founding mother of a national sorority, Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Maryland, and an ESL and adult an education volunteer teacher. I also volunteered at a bilingual Girl Scouts Camp in Maryland. My love for community service and serving as a mentor to other young people, especially young girls, is derived from my exposure to these activities as a young girl.

     Professionally, I strove to follow my interests despite whatever expectations my gender and age may have placed on me. I became an intern investigator for the Public Defenders Service of Washington, D.C. and used my Spanish-speaking skills to help investigate cases; I interned for the United Nations, on Capitol Hill, with the D.C. Attorney-General, with several anti-human trafficking organizations, with Amnesty International’s Headquarters, with the Department of Justice, and most recently, at The White House in the Office of Vice President Joe Biden. As young women, we can reach any goal because we have been encouraged to do so from an early age. Success for us will not be a surprise derivative of good fortune, rather a deserved outcome based on hard work and dedication to our task. Perhaps more prominently than the support of family members and loved ones throughout this development, is the support of the community and school-based mentors we have experienced throughout our years as Girl Scouts.

     First Lady Michelle Obama, perhaps one of the most influential advocates for young girls and their healthy development, was my commencement speaker in May 2010. Her address changed my life forever. She commended my dedication to community service and human trafficking, while acknowledging my “Little Sister” of three years who sat in the audience with my family. She recognized the crucial roles my parents played in my development and who sent me to continue my Graduate Studies in Paris, France. While in Paris, I continued to work on children’s protection issues, particularly from the abuses of modern day slavery. I began two anti-human trafficking groups at The American University of Paris and The Sorbonne, which were later featured in a CNN special on ending modern day slavery. Spending time in countries around the world where there are few opportunities for young women to grow up safely and within grasp of their aspirations has inspired me to continue my studies at the PhD level at American University. I hope to strengthen these child protection measures, not only from human trafficking, but also from all of the source conditions that make young people, but truly anyone, vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.

     Both of my younger sisters have earned their Gold Awards and continue to be a credit to their respective communities, either on her college campus or in her high school. They are incredibly talented, with their innovative Gold Award projects serving as a testament to their maturity, leadership, compassion and strength as women. I am so incredibly proud of them and every young woman enrolled in Girl Scouts across the world. (While in Paris, I actually got to engage with American Girl Scouts whose families were stationed there for work!) As long as we continue to encourage our young women to achieve from an early age and to build stronger relationships with other women, we will begin to see more women working together in workplaces across the country and world, and helping other women to develop as well. I will be a mentor to young women and girls for the rest of my life in whatever capacities I possibly can, so that I may be able to give back a modicum of the immense benefits I received from this type of mentorship and personal development at crucial stages in my youth.