Being a Girl Scout is more than earning badges and selling cookies. For these girls, it's about giving back to the community.
Local Girl Scouts Vada Ortiz, 15, and Ashley Smith, 14, spent 19 days in India last month helping women and children learn about health, hygiene and nutrition and participated in other community projects.
"The whole thought process is to empower the woman that she can no longer be a second-class citizen," said Francis Ortiz, Vada's mom, who also went on the trip. "That's something that's very much struggling over there. If they start young, the hope is to change with the ladies so the teachings become ingrained in them on the proper ways to eat and be clean."
The idea is to change the thought process, so it is passed down through generations.
The Las Vegans were part of a nationwide group that traveled through Mumbai, New Delhi, Jaipur and Pune, soaking up the food and culture, which included Bollywood dancing lessons.
The group members made the 22-hour trek from the United States to Mumbai. It was monsoon season, making the trip quite soggy at some points. They packed ponchos and umbrellas. Culture there dictated that clothing should always cover knees and shoulders.
The trip included a tour of the Taj Mahal, built as a monument of love from emperor Shah Jahan in the 1600s to his wife, who died during childbirth.
"There are marble and stone etchings all over the building," Vada said. "You miss that in pictures. It's different than what you see on the Internet and in movies. We got to touch it and walk in it."
The scouts visited a safe place home for women and children and helped paint a common room inside the building. The group discussed literacy awareness, building beautification and worked on self-esteem projects.
"After we came, and I thought about their culture and country and compared it to mine, I want to go back and help more community partners," said Vada, who has been a Girl Scout for 11 years.
The group worked with 60 women and 75 or so children who had never used a digital camera, and they were mystified by sidewalk chalk. Some of the women were pregnant or victims of domestic violence. Some of the children were orphans, meaning their parents might still be alive but were unable to care for them.
Ashley, who has been a Girl Scout for 10 years, said one little girl in particular really struck a chord.
"She had a mental disability," Ashley said. "She couldn't really talk. She walked around a lot. I noticed her the first day we were there when we were playing games. She'd go off, but she'd come over to me and give me a hug."
She would hug others, too. The little girl wouldn't participate in the activities the group was doing, "but she liked to be there and be a part of it," Ashley added.
"The next day, I wasn't working with her, and I thought she would have forgotten me," Ashley said. "But she ran up to me and hugged me and smiled. It was an important moment I had there. It was amazing to me that this girl remembered me. Ever since working with her and those kids up there, I really want to volunteer here at the orphanage."
The group had left Mumbai days before a terrorist attack set off a series of three coordinated bomb explosions that killed about 30 people and injured 130 others. The girls were more than 100 miles away from the explosions at the time.
"I got a hold of the council here in Las Vegas and informed them that we were OK, what was taking place and we were totally and completely safe," Francis Ortiz said. "They informed the girls' parents about what was happening. We were 115 miles away. With those bombings we were nowhere even close where we would worry we'd be hurt."
Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at email@example.com or 383-0492.