Around the world Girl Scouts get quick lessons in other culture

Sunday, February 3, 2002

Hundreds of area Girl Scouts got to dance the tango in the streets of Argentina, gather coffee beans from the fields of Colombia, get spiritual in India and celebrate independence in Ukraine.

They did it in three hours, not counting the quick jaunt to a couple of Siberian prisons with a world-traveling clown.

It was easy, considering that the 300 travelers -- including the Scout leaders and adult volunteers -- never had to board a plane. Those events were brought to them at the Girl Scouts of Otaki Council's fifth annual International Festival, held Saturday at Southeast Missouri State University.

"With the world the way it is, it's important that these girls learn to make friends with other nationalities," said Mindy Henson, a Junior Scout Leader from Advance. "This does nothing less than promote world peace."

The girls, representing groups from eight counties from Missouri and three from Illinois, experienced the culture of many countries at the event, including Japan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Colombia and Argentina.

They went from room to room, where students and traveling professors from the university's International Center eagerly shared information about their homelands. The girls wowed in disbelief as the student from Argentina, Mariangeles Flores, told them that there is little fast food in her country.

"In the big cities you might find it," Flores said. "But in other towns, forget about it."

In the Japanese room, they put on kimonos, tried the Japanese art of paper-folding called origami and learned how to put chopsticks in their hair. In Colombia, they learned how the country's civil war contrasts with its beautifully hand-crafted baskets, bountiful coffee region and breath-taking views of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

'People are just people'

They also heard from Ellen Dillon, who recently traveled as a clown to orphanages, hospitals and prisons in Siberia in Russia. It wasn't so much the humanitarian nature of the trip, but the message of openness that Dillon intended the children to take away from her talk.

"No matter what country or place you go to, people are just people," she said, in full clown attire. "They may have different traditions, different food and different food, but they're just like you."

Karen Redfearn, the program director for the Girl Scouts, said the event is intended to give the girls a greater appreciation of other countries.

"It shows that we are different," she said. "But more important is the fact that there are many similarities as well."

Julie Langenfeld, a fourth-grader at Alma Schrader Elementary in Cape Girardeau, seemed to get the point.

"I think it's interesting to see what other people are like," she said. "Some people are like you and some people are not like you, but that doesn't mean we can't all be friends."

335-6611, extension 137

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