Troop 733, a local Girl Scout troop of 23 high-school aged feminists, harnesses their passion to educate the community about social justice issues.

girlscouts3

Troop 733 puts in their hands at the end of one of their Monday evening meetings. Photos by Steven Longmire.

The atmosphere at Santa Fe’s Perry Center was focused yet relaxed on the morning of the Sewathon, sustained by the steady whir of several sewing machines. About 15 women of all ages — from young teens to over 70 years old — spent the day sewing linens into reusable menstrual pads while chatting casually about human trafficking, domestic violence, gluten allergies and what to do after high school.

For Troop 733 — the local Girl Scout troop that organized the project — this kind of setting is altogether normal. The project is called “Mission: Possible,” and through it, the troop aims to provide reusable menstrual pads to women in South Sudan. And it’s just one of a slew of projects the troop has put together to help women across the world.

Troop 733 consists of 26 passionate and active young women led by troop leader Radha Selvester, and together she and the troop have cultivated an environment that encourages and teaches the importance of education, advocacy and empowerment. Selvester said that she, as a leader, focuses on making sure that all of the girls’ voices are respected and given a chance to influence the group, instead of approaching troop matters by a majority-rules method.

“Synergy,” Selvester said. “We all feel supported; they are all heard and affirmed.”

Selvester took over the troop two and a half years ago, when it only had two members. Since then, they’ve grown to 26.

Joni Perkins, president of the troop, and member Lilian Jones are both high-school seniors with no plans to leave Girl Scouts after graduating. In fact, they’ve convinced most of their school friends to join their troop. Most members joined by word-of-mouth this way, either invited by Selvester or by other members. Although these young women joined voluntarily, a study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute estimates that only 4 percent of 14 million girls ages 11 to 17 are members of  Girl Scouts in the United States.

“When I tell [my friends] I’m at Girl Scouts, they are like, ‘What are you doing?’” Perkins said. “People don’t usually join Girl Scouts when they’re old. I think it’s part of the fact that we’re so active, and our friends hear about it, and they want to join.”

Selvester took over the troop two and a half years ago, when it only had two members. Since then, they’ve grown to 26.

According to Selvester, their troop’s mission is clear: How can we help our sisters around the world?

To fulfil its mission, Troop 733 is action-oriented, regularly participating in the community Perkins credits their bustling activity to its large membership numbers.

There are so many troops that don’t really do much,” she said. “They go camping that one time in the year, and that’s pretty much it. This troop is really active, we do a lot in the community, and we do a lot of awareness projects.”

Jones, who has been a Girl Scout for 13 years, said her last troop had only seven members. She said that she is happy to now be in a troop that constantly comes up with new projects that reach out to the community. Her old troop, she said, only focused on one trip.

“And after that, it was done,” she said. “It wasn’t even in the community. We went to London, and we didn’t do much.”

The group disbanded shortly after she left, she added.

The troop works toward “journeys” instead of patches, which are essentially “super patches,” according to Perkins. Together, the girls have chosen to work on projects that focus on issues ranging from environmental movements to women’s health. Their projects are synergy-based; everyone’s input counts.

For example, said vice president Jaya Maduri, the troop loves to talk about their GirlTopia journey, a recent project where the troop brainstormed what a utopia would look like for girls and had to present their ideas to the community in some way.

Some wanted to build a tree made out of recycled materials, Maduri said, and the others wanted to put on a play for the community.

“We ended up doing both of them,” she said. “The tree was part of the skit,”

Together, the girls have chosen to work on projects that focus on issues ranging from environmental movements to women’s health.

The troop is working on two projects now. Their first focuses on researching animal agriculture and its effects on the environment, and they plan to share their findings with the community. Their second project is called “Mission Possible: Keep Girls in School. Period.” The troop, along with the help of experienced sewing guild members, are working to sew reusable and washable sanitary pads for female students in South Sudan. The troop discovered that young women in South Sudan are unable to attend school due to menstruation. Because of this, they often fall behind, and eventually drop out of school. Disposable sanitary supplies are expensive and hard to come by when food and shelter are the primary focus of the girls’ families.

With this in mind, Troop 733 uses donated materials and labor to sew hundreds to thousands of these reusable supplies to give to young South Sudanese women for free. They call their supplies “comfort kits” and provide a drawstring bag for privacy, different sized panties, waterproof zip lock bags and the washable pads themselves.

The young women in this troop are well aware of the adversities that face women in other countries as well as the United States.

“In the process of doing the GirlTopia, we also had to learn about all of the adversities that women face,” Perkins said. “We learned about human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and all these terrible things that girls go through around the world.”

In fact, Jones said that the troop recently found out that the Super Bowl is one of the worst places for human trafficking, which they discovered when one of Jones’ friends projects was to protest at the Super Bowl against human trafficking.

“I feel like since we do so much in the community, it empowers you–and you work with all of these amazing girls,” Maduri said. “We are helping girls halfway across the world. How many high school girls can say that?”

Despite the statistical odds of growing a troop from two members to 26 in two and a half years, the troop continues to thrive and grow. Young women are joining as late as their senior year of high school and are excited to participate.

As for their long-term plans, Perkins said she was excited for the future.

“You can be a Girl Scout for life,” she said, “and I’m going to be that!”