Local Girl Scouts educate younger peers in Global Action Team

Menstruation. Child birth. Mental health.

They are topics that many people are not comfortable discussing in a public setting.

But that makes them all the more important to be addressed with the next generation of young women.

And it was women’s health and mental health in particular that were the focus of the recent 2017 Global Action Summit for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, held at Camp Robbinswold on the Olympic Peninsula.

Two Kirkland Girl Scouts, Kathryn Zigweid and Luke Johnson, both 16, were given the honor of being selected as part of the Girls Scouts Global Action Team.

Along with about 19 other high school-aged scouts from around Western Washington, Zigweid and Johnson spent an entire weekend teaching their younger, middle school peers about the importance of health care for all, in particular women’s health and mental health.

“I am very passionate about helping others and advocating for issues that are important to me, like access (to) health care,” Johnson said. “So many people do not have access to or get the proper health care that they need to survive and I feel that we can change this and make a difference.”

The scouts split up into small groups to teach the cadets in stations, conducting activities such as playing a Jeopardy-style game to learn about maternal health, and busting commonly held myths about menstruation, such as the idea that a girl can’t go swimming while on her period.

Zigweid’s group focused on comparing maternal health and menstrual health in Western Europe with the United States and she said in general, they found that “Western Europe has better health care.”

For instance, Zigweid said that through research, the Scouts found that it is far less expensive to give birth in Western Europe than in the United States, and they also found that the cost of a box of tampons in Norway is far lower than they are stateside because in Western Europe, “they’re not as much of a luxury item.” Zigweid believes this is due to a stigma in this country around periods and noted that people — in particular adolescent girls — feel embarrassed to talk openly about menstruation.

“I think there’s a huge stigma in America especially,” Zigweid said. “Some parents aren’t comfortable talking about it … that’s how they were raised.”

The sixth-grade to eighth-grade cadets also learned how to make eco-friendly reusable maxi pads out of cotton and wool, which they were then able to donate to women in need, both in other parts of the world and at local women’s shelters.

On the mental health side of things, cadets did activities such as making bookmarks with the facts that they learned about mental health so that they would always be able to remember them. The girls talked about mental health in the workplace, noting that the same priority for physical ailments is not given for mental health needs.

Just as with reproductive health, Zigweid feels that there is a mental health stigma for teenagers in the United States, making them ashamed to admit to having a mental health disorder and seek help.

“There’s a giant stigma, especially in high school, from the fact that they may not be the same as everyone else,” Zigweid said.

Additionally, the number of other worries on students’ minds may keep them too preoccupied to focus on their own mental health and “they usually don’t seek the help they need because they’re too overwhelmed with everything else,” she said.

The summit was a special experience for the teens because it allowed them to connect and bond with other Girl Scouts their age, which, as Zigweid explained, is a rare opportunity since there are fewer high school Girl Scouts.

“The experience for me was really fulfilling because I got to meet a bunch of people I didn’t know existed, because I didn’t know there were so many Girl Scouts my age,” Zigweid said. She added, “As kids get older, they think it’s not as fun, they think it’s boring — which it isn’t, it’s better as you get older,” Zigweid said.

For Johnson, the experience was a chance to make an important difference in the world, starting with educating the leaders of tomorrow.

“I applied to be a member of the Global Action Team because I think that it’s very important to teach youth about current issues,” she said. “I believe they can make a big difference both now and when they are adults.”