Over the past quarter, our group has had the opportunity to spend Monday evenings with the Girl Scouts troop at the East African Community and Cultural Center. The Center is a vibrant space for the East African community in City Heights, serving as a meeting place for a number of different organizations and programs. The Girl Scouts program, with which we were involved, serves elementary school-aged girls, and falls under the umbrella of services and programs run by the United Women of East Africa (UWEAST) through the Center. Here at Girl Scouts, young girls have the opportunity to discuss and partake in activities that revolve around important themes including identity formation, financial responsibility, friendship, self-care, and independence. Each session covers a new topic or theme and staff usually delivers both a discussion portion as well as some kind of engaging, hands-on activity. During our time with the Girl Scouts, the girls partook in a wide range of activities including: cooking carne asada fries together, doing face masks, watching Akeelah and the Bee and discussing the importance of believing in oneself, playing mancala, setting goals for Ramadan, and doing a creative art project. The programming that the staff crafts and facilitates is always intentional in its goals for the adolescent girls in this group. The discussions and activities are geared towards their age and the many different things going on in their lives at this point, while also fostering a safe and supportive space for them to be able to express themselves.

After spending a few weeks at the center during the Girl Scouts program, we decided we wanted to create a project for the girls that was age-appropriate, engaging and allowed them to be creative while also drawing on some of the themes that had already been discussed briefly during other Girl Scouts meetings. Our hopes for our project was that it would be something that was fun and also relevant to their lives, thus allowing them to reflect in a creative way. Many of the activities that the staff facilitate on a regular basis are very hands-on so we wanted to follow this lead in creating our own project. We settled on creating a project that would allow the girls to use various mediums of art to express their African identity. In a previous Girl Scouts meeting the staff had fostered a discussion in which the girls were asked which African countries they had been to or one day hoped to visit, and this discussion provided inspiration for the project.

In order to make our art workshop as fun and interactive as possible we wanted to be able to provide plenty of supplies that would allow each girl the creative liberty to craft whatever type of image she wanted. In search of art supplies, we reached out the Education Studies department at UCSD. They generously allowed us to borrow from the PAL program resources, and lent us two art cases filled with paints, pencils and crayons as well as tons of drawing paper. This ensured that there were plenty of supplies to go around for the whole group.

On the day of our workshop, the girls were given maps of Africa and could choose a country that was of importance to them and trace an outline of this country or countries. Once they had an outline, they could decorate it however they pleased. As soon as Haneen discussed some of the instructions and general goals of the project, the girls got right to work. There were soon paints, crayons and glitter glue all over the table as they started in on their art pieces. Some girls filled their outlines with images that reminded them of the country they had drawn while others were inspired by their chosen country’s flag and thus created their art piece using that color palate, or created mapped renderings of the entire continent. As the girls worked on their projects all three of us moved throughout the room, distributing with supplies, explaining the instructions, and helping as we could.

It was really special to see how each girl was able to interpret the art project and make it unique. We saw each of their personalities reflected in their art, whether it was what colors they decided to use or what elements they wanted to include in their drawing. We wanted to make this art project something that everyone could participate in, no matter which week they came. After the painting and drawing, we had planned for the following week for the girls to write a haiku that would be reflective of their identities and how they view themselves. We were not able to do the poem because of scheduling conflicts, but we were happy that a few of the girls got the opportunity to express themselves through their drawing and painting.

Once we had the art pieces, all three of us were brainstorming ideas of how to creatively display them. Haneen was able to use her talents to create a photoshop collage that incorporated different aspects of each art piece into one large canvas. Bringing all of the girls’ images together, the theme of her collage centered around ideas of family and home, which also connected to the environment that the staff fosters for the girls. Ella and Julianne had created cutouts of continental Africa to frame the girl’s art pieces. We were all thinking “How can we display their artwork in a way that shows our appreciation for letting us into their lives?” Although the girls are much younger than us, we were able to find ways to connect with them through personal stories, group activities, and by making jokes with each other. We feel so lucky to have been able to spend time alongside the girls and learn so much from them.