For as long as she can remember, Alexa wanted to do service work in Africa. An active Girl Scout since the first grade and now a junior in high school, she explained how this fit with her goal to complete her Gold Award: “Doing the Girl Scout Gold Award project seemed like a perfect way to make that dream come true.”
Last year, Alexa traveled to Tanzania with her mom, Kelly Lynn, and spent a month teaching English, art through literature, math and science to kids ages three to 13.
Researching and planning her Gold Award project and trip took about two years. Prior to the trip, she gave presentations about poverty and education issues affecting Tanzania to schools and churches in her community. She asked kids to clean out their desks at the end of the year and donate the school supplies they no longer needed. With these donations, Alexa and her mom brought four full suitcases (200 pounds) of school supplies and books with them to Tanzania.
Alexa connected a local element to everything she did abroad for her project. She worked with Minnesota school kids to create English-to-Swahili translation books that she gave to Tanzanian children. Each book had a personal message from a child in Minnesota.
In Tanzania, children take a national test at the end of their Class 7 year (equivalent to 8th grade in the U.S.) which determines if they can go on to high school. If they don’t score high enough or can’t afford high school, they can’t go. This is one of the issues that Alexa hoped to address with her project. She knew there might be only a few textbooks in the classroom in Tanzania, but once she and her mom were there, they discovered that the three- and four-year-olds they taught had never seen a story book. “Their teachers didn’t know why you would read a story book to them,” Kelly lynn added. And the middle-school-age kids had never had chapter books.
“By giving them tools to learn like books and art supplies,” Alexa said, “we are better preparing them for these national tests so that when the time comes, they can hopefully get into high school, to give them more opportunities to support themselves later in life.”
While in Tanzania, Alexa lived with a local family and had the opportunity to climb halfway up Mount Kilimanjaro, visit a Maasai village, swim with wild dolphins in the Indian Ocean, tour three national wildlife parks and experience many other new adventures.
Now that she’s back, she is planning to build a library for the school where she taught through continuing donation projects and presentations. Half of the books she collects will be donated locally to a Christmas sharing program. She hopes to inspire others to take action.
“I can see that this could become part of Alexa’s life work,” commented Kelly lynn. “I know it’s really shaped how I look at things. . . . We have kids who cut a pencil in half over there, or share a pencil because there’s not enough pencils to go around.”
For other Girl Scouts who might be starting their Gold Award project, Alexa shared some encouraging words, “Think big,” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t do. If you find an issue or a topic that you feel passionate about and you feel like you can help with it, go for it.”
If you are interested in supporting Alexa’s work or sending supplies to Africa, submit your information below: