Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hear it from Girl Scouts: Voice of the Cheetah Destination!

Girl Scout Destinations provides girls with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel and develop leadership skills in a whole new light. Thanks to funding, in part by the Elliott Wildlife Values Project, the Voice of the Cheetah Destination is giving 15 girls—12 Girl Scouts from the United States and three Girl Guides from South Africa—the opportunity to explore a career in wildlife conservation, protection, or advocacy. During this epic, two-part Destinations program, participants first traveled to Washington, DC, for a six-day adventure working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund to learn more about the challenges of cheetah conservation, including meetings with researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, a visit with the “great cats” at the National Zoo, and a trip to Capitol Hill to meet with several members of Congress to understand their advocacy for wildlife conservation matters. Then, a year later, girls will travel to Namibia, to practically apply what they learned in Washington, DC. They will join forces with Cheetah Conservation Fund’s founder and executive director, Dr. Laurie Marker, and explore national parks and protected areas, learning about wildlife, ecosystems, and conservation issues.

Kira (KC), 14, from Girl Scouts of Black Diamond, Jenna (JT), 14, from Girl Scouts of San Jacinto, Olivia, (OB), 13, from Girl Scouts of Orange County, Jessica (JH), 17, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, and Savannah (SF), 16, from Girl Scouts of North East Ohio recently returned from part one of this adventure. Here’s what they have to say:

How did you find out about Destinations, and what inspired you to apply to Voice of the Cheetah?
SF: My mom and I were going through the Girl Scout website when we found the options for Destinations. I decided to apply because I loved cheetahs as a little girl and I love science—mostly zoology.
JH: I was inspired to apply to Voice of the Cheetah because for the Gold Award I am educating school children on endangered species and how they can help. Another inspiration for me is my dream to run a zoo when I am older.

What have you learned about wildlife conservation from your Destination experience?
OB: My Destination experience taught me a lot about wildlife conservation. Most importantly, I learned that every person has the power to instigate change
KC: I learned how anybody, even the youngest kid, can have a voice and make a difference. I also learned how to help wildlife by teaching others about its importance.

How has the Destinations program inspired you to protect wildlife, raise awareness, and/or inspire others to protect wildlife?
JT: It definitely makes me want to spread the word about conservation to locals in my area. Girl Scouts are capable of doing so much, they taught me that for sure. They made me realize how much of an impact I have on the world and conservation as a whole.
KC: I’m just one voice, but I can inspire other strong voices, like my Girl Scout troop, so that they can spread it to others to save the cheetahs! This program has inspired me to educate people on how to save wildlife, hoping that they will change their behavior and positively affect animals around the world. It taught me how to make a difference by speaking up, educating other people on the issue, and not giving up. I want to share that with the world!

Is there a particular moment you can recall from your experience with Destinations that illustrates why you feel travel is important?
JH:  Traveling is important because it allows us to be a part of another culture. I saw this in everyone on the Destination because we were from all over the United States and even had a few girls from South Africa. The culture on the East Coast is quite different from the West Coast, but it is especially different from South Africa. It was amazing to be able to share our culture and customs with the Girl Guides and have them educate us about theirs.
KC: Travel is important because you get to interact with diverse cultures and learn about their ideas—more than you could in a classroom. Experiencing that unique view of the world is one of the most eye-opening feelings imaginable.

What advice would you give Girl Scouts thinking about attending a Destination?
JT: Do it. They are so much fun and you get the chance to make so many good friends to last you a lifetime. Make sure you're comfortable flying on your own and definitely pack comfortable shoes. :)
SF: Don't be concerned about making friends—I was, so I made my mom buy me a deck of cards so I could at least play cards with someone. The girls there don't know anyone either—so it would benefit you and make them happy if you just started talking to them when you first get there.

How did you earn money to travel on your Destination and what advice do you have for girls saving for a trip?

OB: The majority of my money is derived from savings and Girl Scout Cookie money. Every holiday and birthday, I always ask for the same gift from everyone—Destination money. I consistently work my hardest to sell hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to earn incentive dollars. Over time, this money has accumulated and allowed me to travel. For another girl saving money for her Destination, I would say that every dollar counts, and that experience is worth more than any item you can buy on Amazon.

What kind of impact has being a Girl Scout had on your life?

JT: Being a Girl Scout has been one of the best things I've ever decided to be a part of. I get to do so many amazing things for both my community and places around the world. I've done so much through Girl Scouts and I plan to continue doing everything I can to have a positive impact on the world.
JH: Girl Scouts has taught me how to be a leader and how to make a difference. It has encouraged me to go outside of my comfort zone and reach for the stars. Girl Scouts has taught me that whatever you set your mind to, you can achieve.

Where will your next Destination take you? The possibilities are endless.