G.I.R.L.s Changing the World

“If you want to make a big impact, you can’t be afraid to think big too.”

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Girl Scouts not only help their own communities—their work can even span the globe! Such is the case with many of GSUSA’s National Young Women of Distinction.

Pooja Nagpal, 2015 National Young Woman of Distinction. Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

Each year, GSUSA honors 10 National Young Women of Distinction who demonstrated exceptional leadership through their Gold Award projects. In 2015, GSGLA’s own Pooja Nagpal earned the distinction for her Gold Award project in which she developed a self-defense program for girls in rural India. Pooja now attends UC Berkeley, but we have another National Young Woman of Distinction living in Greater LA—2016 National Young Woman of Distinction Hanna Chuang, who attends USC.

Hanna Chuang, 2016 National Young Women of Distinction

Hanna grew up in Singapore, where she led her Gold Award project as a member of USA Girl Scouts Overseas. Noticing the stark income equality that existed in neighboring countries, she partnered with a small NGO to cofound a service club called READ (Rural Education and Development) Bhutan. Club members built a READ center in a rural village in Bhutan, and Hanna collected and donated more than 3,000 books to the center—and that’s not all.

We spoke with Hanna to learn more about her Gold Award project and how it’s shaped the successful young woman she has become.

What are you studying at USC and what are your career aspirations?
I am a freshman studying Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the USC Keck School of Medicine. As of now I am a premed student, but I’ve thought about going into research or possibly taking a minor in nonprofit management and also journalism. The dream is to become a doctor and work in third-world countries or to work for the CDC studying diseases and working on preventing or curing some of them.

How long did you live in Singapore? Where did you live previously?
I was born in Fairfax, Virginia and moved to Singapore when I was five. My family ended up staying in Singapore so I attended Singapore American School from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. I actually credit a lot of my project’s success to living in Singapore. Singapore’s geographic location made us neighbors of many developing countries despite being one of the most developed countries in the world. Because of this, people living in Singapore and those who attended my high school are very aware of the inequality that exists in our world and are open to hearing about hanna-chuang-1worthwhile causes and are generous when asked to help out. My high school is also extremely supportive of service initiatives which made the process of finding a student audience very straightforward and organized. It is also because of my high school’s investment in service that I was able to create an annual trip that takes about 20 students and two teacher sponsors to Bhutan and visits the different READ centers that are set up there, including the one that we helped build.

What was your biggest takeaway from this Gold Award project? What did you learn about yourself?
Definitely realizing that helping people was something I want to do for the rest of my life. I love working with women and children and will always be an advocate for equal access to an education and women’s empowerment; however, I wanted to branch out and study science and medicine to be able to help people everywhere, just in a different way.

What’s the most useful skill you learned from doing your Gold Award project that has been particularly helpful as a student at USC?
Besides getting to work on my organizational skills, I learned how to work with all different types of people and found ways to assess and recognize the needs of others and adjust my approach to cater those specific needs. Throughout the project, I had to be unapologetic about reaching out to people to raise awareness and also to ask for help and support. By the end of the project, I had collaborated with almost every type of group imaginable: students, faculty, and administration to start and run the club at school, business owners and adults to raise money to buy the supplies we needed (we raised $160,000 in one year), Olympic athletes to help raise awareness, people who work for the READ organization, and the women and children who live in Bhutan.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for a girl who wants to make a big impact with a Gold Award project?
If you want to make a big impact, you can’t be afraid to think big too. Your project could be inspired by something directly related to your own life, but it doesn’t have to be. Oftentimes, there are causes around the world that we feel strongly about but may be uncomfortable with taking action on because we aren’t sure about what we can do to help or are worried that the issue is too distant and complicated to be a part of. The Gold Award is great because the project isn’t just about helping and making a difference right off the bat, but also learning how to help in the process. Even though I lived in Singapore, I focused my project on Bhutan, a country 3,000 miles away. Physical distance from a project may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! If there’s something you’re passionate about, make it your project and if you need help, don’t be shy about reaching out to people involved with the cause for support.

We’re so thankful to Hanna for sharing her valuable insight and wisdom.

Stay tuned for more information on the 2017 National Young Women of Distinction. In the meantime, you can read more about Hanna and her Girl Scouting experience here.

You can also read more about the Girl Scout Gold Award—the prerequisite for every National Young Woman of Distinction—by clicking here.

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