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Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day Celebrations Conclude GSNorCal Girls' Participation in UN's Commission on Status of Women

World YWCA's Nyaradzai Gumbonzvada
We think it's perfectly fitting that on International Women's Day, 5 of our girls from Girl Scouts of Northern California are finishing up an incredible experience in New York City as part of the United Nation's Commission on the Status of Women! 

This morning, our girls from GSNorCal marched - in the snow! - in the International Women's Day Celebration March starting at the United Nations and continuing through the city, and they are returning to Northern California this evening. Safe travels, girls -- you were excellent leaders before you departed, and you'll be even more exceptional after this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Highlights of our girls' work this week included:
  • Allison was a featured speaker and panelist at the Boy Girl Dialogue.
  • Jessica presented group recommendations for impacting violence against women.
  • America, Larissa, and Allison helped to complete the teen statement at the Girl's Caucus.
  • Varsha testified in a case at The Girls’ Tribunal on Violence, which was a unique opportunity for teen girls to share the impact that violence has had on their own lives. Girls are the experts of their own experience and the Tribunal created a space in which girls’ voices are given the respect they deserve. The Tribunal highlighted girls’ experiences with violence and how they have taken steps to move forward and work towards preventing violence. Divided into three topics, the girls’ testimonies addressed violence in the media, in their communities and in their schools. Special attention was given to the ways that girls’ experiences have led them to advocacy and activism against violence.
  • Larissa and America presented to Commission on the Status of Women delegates a session called “Girls Ending the Cycle: Combating Inter-Generational Violence Through Leadership and Empowerment.”
  • Jessica and Varsha were asked by the Princess of Saudi Arabia, Her Royal Highness Basmah bint Saud, to join her in a Skype session. The Princess was the sponsor of The Girls' Tribunal on Violence and wanted feedback from our girls!
  • Varsha and Prince Zeid
  • Our girls had the opportunity to interact with many leaders, officials, and dignitaries, including World YWCA Gen. Secretary Nyaradzai Gumbonzvada; His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and actress Monique Coleman from High School Musical.
About International Women's Day

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900s. IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The United States even designates the whole month of March as 'Women's History Month.' The tradition sees men honoring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reflections on Working With Girl Scouts Behind Bars

Got Choices' Shalon Maral at a juvenile justice center
Today's GSNorCal blog is written by Shalon Maral, outreach program manager for our Got Choices program here in Northern California. Got Choices takes Girl Scouting to at-risk, high-risk, and adjudicated girls in schools, shelters, and even juvenile justice facilities, where we focus on healthy decision making and relationship choices, self esteem, and much more. Shalon's words are also shared on the blog for the Independent Television Service (ITVS), which just released a new video featuring Shalon and her girls that focuses on how Got Choices is changing lives behind bars. The release of the video coincides with the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York City this week, where two girls from Got Choices' at-risk schools program presented a session called Girls Ending the Cycle: Combating Inter-Generational Violence Through Leadership and Empowerment." You can watch the ITVS video by clicking here. Thank you, Shalon, ITVS, and to all our partners and supporters who make Got Choices possible!

A Got Choices Girl Scout in the system
I started out with Girl Scouts 22 years ago as a volunteer and I now have the most incredible job! For the last 10 years, working for Girl Scouts as an Outreach Program Manager has opened my heart. Our program, Got Choices, is a nationwide Girl Scouts in Detention Center Program. It is very strong in Northern California and continues to grow. We serve at least 660 girls a year in our council, in 18 sites in five counties.

My girls are in juvenile detention centers, on probation, and in group homes. Girl Scouts is working with girls from all walks of life. They are involved in gangs, drugs, and prostitution, to name a few of their choice activities before Got Choices … and they are Girl Scouts.  We have weekly meetings where I am potentially the only person that the girls see from the “outside” for days on end. These girls are MY girls. And I know that the work we do with them matters.

I can personally relate to these girls on so many levels, because of my experiences as a youth. I have “been there, done that.”  I am blessed to have the opportunity to share with them who I was and who I have become. The girls learn about my past and it builds trust between us. We connect.

At a self-esteem workshop
I believe these girls can make changes in their lives and in the community, if they are given the right tools. Having positive adult female mentors, such as me, helps the girls learn how to relate to others in a more positive way.  I have shown them that there is another way to live. They can make different choices. Believing they can have a positive future makes the biggest difference of all.

Partnering with ITVS has given the girls a look at the world through others’ eyes. They can see other girls who walk the same walk, talk the same talk. The girls relate to documentaries and can view them without being judged.  My girls can identify pieces of themselves within the girls in the films. The curriculum motivates them to be better people and to not go down the same path. They are learning to make a new path for themselves.  It gives them hope.

ITVS curriculum is current; it tells stories of people the girls can relate to, helping them develop a sense of empathy. The documentaries and activities are engaging so they are motivated to participate and learn at the same time. I love this curriculum and I love sharing it with others. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the girls!

I believe together we can make a difference in the lives of girls from all backgrounds, including those in detention centers. Using resources like this one helps us one step closer to that goal.

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents, and promotes award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television and cable, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS. Community Classroom is an innovative and free resource for educators, offering short-form film modules adapted from ITVS's award-winning documentaries and standards-based lesson plans for high school and community colleges, NGOs, and youth organizations. See more at http://www.itvs.org/educators/ 

In 2012, ITVS’s Community Classroom partnered with the Girls Scouts of the USA to create the curriculum “This is a Story You Have to Tell: Women, Girls, and the Criminal Justice System.” The collection features modules from three ITVS films: Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, Troop 1500, and Girls on the Wall. The Girl Scouts have since adapted the resource to be used as curriculum for their national programs Beyond Bars and Girl Scouting in Detention Centers, reaching nearly 17,000 women and girls around the country.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Updates from GSNorCal's Teen Delegation to the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women

UN in session, flags raised
Our GSNorCal girls who are part of the Girl Scout delegation to the United Nation's Commission on the Status of Women had a busy weekend in New York preparing for their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present their voices on the global stage to work toward the "elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against girls and women." 

Preparing for upcoming sessions
"Our girls have no fear of standing up for what they think is right," said Marla Howard, a GSNorCal program director who is one of the adult chaperones on the trip. "They are stepping forward, eager and willing to a world that intimidates many adults to help make people understand why we need to stop violence against women and girls."

With Michael Kaufman of White Ribbon Campaign
On Saturday, the girls facilitated a discussion within their delegation workgroup on whether on not their blog site should be public. It was a serious discussion on what they want out there and how it could impact people as they talk about how they feel about discussions in sessions at the Commission on the Status of Women. They spoke up and said they want to be heard and want people to understand what is going on in the world rather than hide it out of fear that someone will disagree.

The girls attended an all-day orientation with teens from around the world, which included a session with United Nation's consultant Michael Kaufman, co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women.

Our Girl Scouts are taking the lead in getting themselves around New York City -- America hailed her very first cab on Sunday. They've figured out how to use the subway, onto the correct trains, finding their way through neighborhoods to their meeting places.

America and Larissa
Of course, no trip to New York would be complete without a trip to the Statue of Liberty, and the girls also visited Ground Zero. Here's the reaction from Larissa, one of our Girl Scouts from our Got Choices program, a program for teen and tween girls who are involved, or at risk for becoming involved, in the juvenile justice system:

"Today we visited the Statue of Liberty -- when coming to New York, this was one of the many things I wanted to visit. Visiting the Stature of Liberty was a great experience for me. I really liked it. I learned that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. I also learned that Ellis island was for immigration when they were coming into the United States. They checked for diseases, head lice, and other things to allow them into the US. We also visited the World Trade Center Memorial where the Twin Towers were. While visiting, I learned more information about the attack and what people's thoughts were about. We met a guy who was a street historian who told us about 9/11. I learned that four planes attacked and there were about twelve restaurants inside of the towers. He also told us about how they were rebuilding it so at night two blue lights will glow to represent the memorial. He recommended the church that was right by the Towers that wasn't affected by the attack. We took the subway to these locations, and it was an interesting mode of transportation. It was dark and really packed with people, yet fun and overall a great experience to bring back home."

Chaperones Marla & Whitney
Whitney Evans, our Got Choices program director who is also chaperoning the girls, is beside herself with pride as she observes her girls - who have already overcome so many obstacles at a young age - succeeding on a world stage. 

"Watching Larissa and America participate with the other girls from across the country at GSUSA is a blast," Whitney said. "They are working hard to step out of their comfort zones and have their voices heard. I am so glad we were able to show them the Statue of Liberty and teach them a little about the history of this country. These two kids have worked so hard to be where they are in their lives, and I could not be more proud. I tease them that I taught them everything they know, but really they have taught me so much about resilience and perseverance."

Last night, as they made their way home, it began to snow -- another treat for these California girls.

The full Girl Scout delegation
"My New York dream came true today -- it snowed!" said Varsha, who is a girl representative on the GSNorCal Board of Directors. "That was the perfect end to a perfect day!"

On Monday, Varsha and Jessica are in monitoring the Commission on the Status of Women's general discussion, while America, Larissa, and Allison are helping to complete the teen statement at the girls caucus.

Stay tuned to the GSNorCal blog this week to hear more about our girls, including updates on their upcoming presentations!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Five GSNorCal Teens Presenting at United Nation's Commission on the Status of Women in New York City!

Girl Scouts of Northern California is ecstatic that 5 of our own Girl Scouts are in New York this week presenting to the United Nation’s 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women!   

GSNorCal's delegation tours GSUSA HQ in New York
Each March, more than 5,000 women and girls from around the world gather at the United Nations for a two-week session focused on the state of gender equality around the world. Girl Scouts of the USA and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts participate annually to bring the voices of girls and young women to this global stage. This year's priority theme will be the "elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against girls and women."

Congratulations to Allison from Pacifica, America from San Jose, Jessica from Atherton, Larissa from Milpitas, and Varsha from San Jose on being selected by Girl Scouts NorCal for this prestigious opportunity! Over 60 teens from our council applied, and our representatives were selected due to their passion for and knowledge of this year’s theme plus their previous or current projects that relate to it.

In addition to presenting at sessions and filling roles on committees, our GSNorCal girls will be engaging with UN Agencies, non-governmental organizations, Country Missions, and other youth delegates from around the world. They are part of a Girl Scouts of the USA delegation that is sharing GSUSA’s work and how it’s helping to improve the lives of girls here in the United States.

At Top of the Rock before work begins!
The girls arrived yesterday, and they had a day today to see New York and tour GSUSA headquarters before immersing themselves this weekend in their roles and preparing for their presentations, which start Monday.

Two of our girls, Larissa and America, are also part of GSNorCal’s Got Choices program and will be presenting to Commission on the Status of Women delegates called Girls Ending the Cycle: Combating Inter-Generational Violence Through Leadership and Empowerment.”

GSNorCal’s Got Choices is a program for teen and tween girls who are involved, or at risk for becoming involved, in the juvenile justice system. Got Choices gives girls the tools they need to make better decisions in their lives and gain skills in relationship building, health and wellness education, violence prevention, and service to the community.

Watch our GSNorCal blog all week for updates from our Girl Scouts from their once-in-a-lifetime extraordinary experience at the United Nations!