Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Destination: Namibia! Girls Scouts Learn About Cheetah Conservation

Last year, a group of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides met in Washington, DC, for the first half of the two-part Voice of the Cheetah Girl Scout Destination experience, funded in part by Girl Scouts of the USA's Elliott Wildlife Value Project and organized by the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina. Their six days in DC gave them the opportunity to work with and learn from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) about the challenges of cheetah conservation. The girls were even able to meet with researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, visit the “great cats” at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, and sit down with several members of Congress on Capitol Hill, who filled the girls in on their advocacy efforts in wildlife conservation.

The second half of the Voice of the Cheetah Destination unfolded from July 23 through August 5, 2017. Equipped with passports and tourist visas, the girls flew across the Atlantic for two weeks of rolling up their sleeves and learning in Namibia. While there, the group visited natural and historic wonders (including Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), met with the San people and became more familiar with their culture, and gave back through environmental activities with the CCF.

We wanted to learn more about this unique Girl Scout experience, so we chatted with Allison, Sarah, Kira, Savannah, and Olivia.

What inspired you to apply to Voice of the Cheetah?

KC: What drew me to this Destination is my love for all cats and my desire to help the world for future generations. This trip seemed like it would be a dream come true. I would not only be able to make a difference for the animals, but I could even experience some of the different cultures and the diversity of Africa. It was AMAZING; I learned more than I ever thought I would! I’m so glad I did this. The experience was life-altering—not only helping me get more involved in conservation, but also inspiring me to explore other ways or life and cultures around the world.

What have you learned about wildlife conservation from your Destination experience?

AW: I learned about a concept called “one health,” which shows how everything is related. The health of one animal species affects the health of the whole ecosystem and the people in it. Because of this, it is important that conservationists take into account all species, including people, affected by the species’ existence. Conservationists have to think about people’s interests, and how people interact with wildlife.

KC: I learned how anybody, no matter their age, where they live, or what they do, can have a voice and make a difference [based on] what they believe in.

Have you always been interested in wildlife conservation? Was there a moment (maybe a book or television show) that sparked your interest?

I loved Animal Planet shows about animals and conservation, as well as the National Geographic Kids magazine. That served as a basis for my love of animals. I was also exposed to conservation early in my life, through the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the TIGERS wildlife reserve. I got to see amazing animals up close and learned about the dangers they face, especially from humans. I wanted to protect these majestic animals, and one of the ways to do that is through conservation.

OB: I have been interested in wildlife conservation from before I can remember. As a young child who became vegetarian at the age of three when I learned that meat was animals, I was already interested in what I could do to protect my beliefs and conserve wildlife. My older sister sparked my passion for the environment through the moral standards she imposed on my young brother and me. Growing up in an empowering household, I rarely doubted that my beliefs would come to fruition and be shared with the world.

Why do you think people should care about animals and places they may never see themselves?

KC: We have one planet. We need to take care of it. Everybody needs to be responsible. The things we do to harm our environment impacts the rest of the world, including animal species on all continents. Conservation is the right thing to do.

OB: People must care about animals and places they may never see themselves because few people have the opportunity to experience these things in person. Nationalistic centrism and closed thinking prevent global change. We must be interested in more than our living space to save that of others. The world is a knot thousands of ropes thick; cutting one strand loosens the knot, eventually leading to the unraveling of ecosystems which impact one another in a domino effect. It is imperative that we care about foreign animals and places because they impact the natural communities we hold dear.

How has Girl Scouts’ Destinations program inspired you to protect wildlife and/or encourage others to protect wildlife? How will you bring your experience in Namibia back to your troop, council, school, and/or community?

I never knew how conservation works, or what conservation funds do to help the actual animal species. This Destination has inspired me to talk to people, share my love of animals, and educate people on the challenges animals face in the wild, including environmental and human-wildlife conflict issues. Every person can do their part and make a difference for the future of all life on this planet.

OB: A better understanding of existing wildlife and the threats it faces has inspired me to protect animals through the education of others. I created Be the Difference, a program and website that educates youth about conservation and empowers them to take action. By focusing on children, I believe I can ingrain the importance of conservation in their minds and hearts and empower them to do simple things that can make a difference.

SH: This trip helped me see that there's more to conservation than just politics. I'm quite interested in dog programs, training, and genetics. I'm inspired to learn more about training dogs for different jobs, such as scat dogs. For my Take Action project, I went to an event for girls where we talked about the Girl Scout trips they had been on and I talked about my DC trip and what I was going to be doing in Africa, to show them that you can get involved at a young age and have fun with it. I also went to our [World] Thinking Day [event], where I had a booth about cheetahs and why they're endangered.

SF: The Destinations program gave me much more knowledge and understanding about conservation that I can share with others. I am talking about my experience in Namibia with many people. I also plan to talk with my high school envirothon coach about an extension of the club for conservation.

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

KC: Girl Scouts makes me want to be the best person I can be. I have learned how important it is to give back to your community, as well as to share what I have learned with the whole world. I learned to follow my passions and try to make a difference. Being a Girl Scout opens doors that I never thought would be open. I didn’t think I would ever have anything like this amazing experience. I don’t know where else Girl Scouts will take me in the future, but I share the Girl Scout vision “to make the world a better place.” I would like to inspire other kids like I’ve been inspired—I can’t wait to see what happens next!

OB: Being a Girl Scout has developed my personality and character. I am an active citizen who cares about her community and the world and is unafraid to take charge. Girl Scouts, through the collaboration of many friends, brilliant troop leaders, adults, and council staff, has built me into the leader and the person I am today. Girl Scouts has also ingrained in me the desire to mentor younger girls and help them grow as well.

SF: Being a Girl Scout has made me a better person and a better leader. I have more confidence and stronger leadership skills due to being a Girl Scout.

For more about Girl Scout Destinations, visit