Monday, April 13, 2009

On My Honor: Blending Chinese Heritage with American Scouting

Bethann Buddenbaum is a freelance consultant who moved back to her home state in the Midwest after living in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She is the mother of two daughters who were adopted from the Zhuzhou Social Welfare Institute in Hunan, China.

When children are younger, it is easier to engage them in Chinese-related events and activities. And, honestly they are often happy to just parade around in their fancy Chinese suit or Chinese qipao. Around the age of five, however, comes the realization that holiday related dress-up will only hold their interest for so long. So what do you do to help further your children's interest in their Chinese heritage in a way that is both meaningful and attractive to them?

If you are Charlotte Ottinger and Chris Jacobson, you merge girls' American and Chinese worlds. In 2005, these two moms created a Brownie Troop, which is comprised primarily of Chinese adoptees.

The troop feeds from all across Indianapolis and surrounding areas. The girls participate in traditional Girl Scout projects, though their activities have a special twist. While the girls still work on badges, each badge that they earn incorporates lessons in Chinese heritage. The girls have learned about Chinese calligraphy, cooking, games, musical instruments, paper crafts, tea culture, the Ming dynasty, and many other related topics. Each of these lessons is shared through a mixture of field trips, hands-on activities, simple lectures, and at-home reading that helps to involve the parents and open a dialogue.

While the complexities of the Chinese culture are difficult for young minds to fully grasp, the troop lays a groundwork for future exploration. The structure of Girl Scouts also provides the opportunity for the girls to increase their subject matter knowledge. They can earn a Brownie badge for cooking and take this learning to the next level when they pursue their Junior cooking badge.

One of the most memorable building blocks activities of the past year involved building a Chinese pagoda out of gingerbread. The younger girls focused on making individual houses out of graham crackers. They received a brief overview of the pagoda and its relevance to Chinese culture. The Juniors received a much more detailed informational program about the pagoda including learning about its historical, religious, and architectural importance. They then worked together to create a gingerbread pagoda, which was entered into a holiday gingerbread village competition at Connor Prairie. The troop was honored with the "Most Creative Pagoda" award.

Those first Brownies from the troop are now Juniors. This past year, to meet the needs of even more girls, Troop 42 expanded to include a new Brownie and Daisy group. Girl Scout Troop 42 has grown to embrace over 65 members and is overseen by 11 leaders and committee members.

As with any troop, each girl brings her own unique perspective, but the meetings provide a space where they can freely ask questions, explore, and compare each other's experiences. Although it is difficult for the girls to forge deep relationships based upon once monthly meetings, there are many girls who have begun to connect and find strong friendships that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to create.