Scouts Meet Benin Ambassador

The ambassador to the U.S. from Benin, Cyrille Oguin, enchanted over 160 Girl Scouts and adult volunteers by speaking against poverty at Thinking Day in Great Hall.

The Feb. 20 event was hosted by the Campus Scouts, the Mary Washington Girl Scouts club. Thinking Day occurs annually around the country, and usually incorporates a general theme that each area Girl Scout troop will research and present.

This year the event focused specifically on impoverished countries and the actions that these girls can take to help the situation.

“If you can’t afford three meals a day, your life is hell,” Oguin told the packed room of Scouts and adults, who listened attentively during his keynote address.

Oguin painted a picture of life in Benin, his native African country, emphasizing that poverty is the number one problem in Africa. He said that there is little to no access to education, health care or entertainment.

“I believe there is enough [wealth] in the world for everyone to afford three meals a day,” he told the room.

He also outlined his nation’s desire for unity.

“We are going through our own process of becoming a nation,” Oguin said. “To become a nation…you need a common will, a common history. But we are not [a nation] yet.”

Oguin, who has been ambassador to the U.S. since 2001 and who has been heavily involved in diplomacy for Benin since 1978, gave the room a bit of Benins background. He said that there are 50 languages for the country’s 8 million inhabitants, another roadblock to the nation that the country desires to create.

He also encouraged the girls to get involved and help to solve these problems.
“Don’t judge by your own realities here,” he told them. “Don’t be shy. You are a Girl Scout.”

He told the Bullet later that although his country isn’t engaged in a war currently, they need to wage war against poverty.

“It is very rewarding to know in this place, a place of affluence, there are still people who care enough to know that there are still some people who cannot afford three meals a day,” he said. “It is refreshing. I should be here to encourage those young people who have this ‘thinking’ today. Those young people—they will be the ones who bring change to the world.”

Oguin was contacted to speak by Pamela Bridgewater, the former U.S. ambassador to Benin, who attends Shiloh Baptist Church with local Girl Scout leaders Giovonni Smith, of Daisy Troop 381, and Joyce Hill, of Brownie Junior Troop 3164, Smith said. Juanita Pitchford, who is affiliated with the troops that chose to present the country of Benin and who attends the same church, connected the Scouts and the ambassador.

Erin Burke, the president of Campus Scouts, said that this Thinking Day event was atypical.

“Normally it doesn’t have this kind of theme, and that was my intention,” Burke said. “Normally they just do projects on islands of the world, or some very general theme that doesn’t touch on a controversial topic. But I was given a choice to do this theme by the [Fredericksburg area Girl Scouts] director, Gail Domeleski. I just thought it would be a really good opportunity to make it different and make it memorable, and to provide a good message.”

Burke was surprised by the large outcome of girls and adults and by their enthusiasm. She also enjoyed having Oguin come and speak to the girls, in light of the more controversial aspect of the topic she’d chosen for the event.
“He was eager to talk to us and excited to talk to the girls, which I really appreciated,” Burke said. “I agreed with him that these girls [at their age] probably don’t know anything about world poverty. They don’t know about third world nations.”

Burke said that most of the girls present at the event are still forming their opinions about the world.

“So for him to say that they can actually do something about this and that they can grow up to do something about this problem was a really good message for them [to hear],” she said.

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