Be honest, when you hear the words “Girl Scouts”, what’s the first image that pops into your head? Selling cookies door-to-door? Hand-sewn badges? Or maybe singing songs around a campfire? All these things are part of Girl Scouts lore, but the purpose and history of the organization go far deeper. The mission of the Girl Scouts of the USA is to teach members to unleash their inner G.I.R.L, which stands for Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader.
The USA Girl Scouts Overseas – Paris (USAGSO-Paris) branch has been active since 1949 and is particularly focused on cross-cultural learning opportunities, helping girls from ages 5 to 18 to grasp important global issues. The organization is part of WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides, which includes the Fédération de Scoutisme Français, or French Scouts.
Unlike many French troops, which are usually (but not always) geared towards a certain religion, Girls Scouts are non-denominational. The Paris chapter is open to all nationalities, although girls must be fluent English-speakers to join. For Anglophone parents raising their daughters far from home, becoming part of the Girl Scouts gives them the opportunity to meet other international families and share a piece of their home culture with their children.
“USAGSO – Paris helps give girls the power, inspiration, and resources to make a positive impact on the world.”
– Rebecca Dinari, USAGO-Paris
A progressive organization since its founding over 100 years ago by Juliette Gordon Low — in the 1950s, Martin Luther King Jr. described the organization as “a force for desegregation” — the Girls Scouts have been able to keep up with the times in a way their male counterparts, the Boy Scouts of America, haven’t always. Just recently, a Cub Scout was excluded from his troop for asking his state representative a question about gun control. Supporting young girls to develop their full potential as leaders and active citizens of the world is a central tenet of WAGGGS.
As the Girl Scouts website puts it, by enrolling your daughter, “She’ll be inspired to discover her talents and passions in a safe and supportive all-girl setting. She’ll join with other Girl Scouts and people in her community—and together, they’ll take action to change the world.”
“Leadership means being responsible for what you say and do, being courageous and helpful, but most of all standing up for what you believe in. To me being a leader doesn’t only mean knowing what to do by yourself, it also means helping others reach their goals.” – Jasmine Dinari, 15, Paris
Monthly Girl Scout meetings are organized around activities that contribute to earning specific badges and awards. These days, they are mainly focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities, entrepreneurship or community service projects, such as first aid training, visiting senior centers or creating a program to buy birthday gifts for refugees. These projects are initiated and implemented by the girls themselves, with the older scouts passing along what they’ve learned to the younger ones.
“I like being able to help others through the Girl Scout community, as well as the feeling of sisterhood when I’m with other Girl Scouts. Everyone is super supportive and inspiring, it’s amazing to be part of a community like this.” – Mira Dinari, 13, Paris
“One of the best things I’ve done is learn the Girl Scout Promise in sign language to teach it to younger scouts. I enjoyed sharing something I learned with others and in the process, I became more aware of those around me who have communication disabilities and who need to use sign language to function in their daily lives.” – Isabella Watson, 10, Paris
While these community projects are an essential part of Girl Scouts, so are all the fun family-oriented activities such as Campout, an honest-to-goodness overnight camping trip complete with hikes, s’mores and scary stories, or Founder’s Day Songfest, where each troop prepares a song in honor of Juliette Gordon Low’s birthday. And while France-based troops, unfortunately, can’t sell cookies door-to-door due to French regulations, they otherwise get the same bonding and learning experiences as any other Girl Scout anywhere in the world.
“Girl Scouts is for me a chance to spend a privileged moment with my daughter while sharing a connection from my own childhood. It’s an important balance to the French education and culture she’s receiving.” – Sharon Moore, Troop Leader, Paris
So if you’re looking for an activity for your daughter that will build her confidence, teach her leadership skills and help make the world a better place, look no further than the Girl Scouts. And if you get a line on those fabulous Thin Mint cookies, be sure to pass it on!