Memorial High senior Susan Soh will never forget several things about Oct. 11, 2018 – the International Day of the Girl Child.
First, she was feeling sick on the set of NBC’s Today Show and that actually turned out well when she later met Michelle Obama as the former first lady headed to an outdoors stage set up for the morning news show last Thursday.
Second, this top-ranked national Girl Scout heard firsthand about the harsh inequalities faced by young women worldwide during a United Nations-led “Girls Speak Out” panel discussion, also held Oct. 11 in New York City. The stories made Soh want to do even more to fight such problems.
She is no novice in this area. Since middle school, Soh has been observing and then doing a lot to improve the lives of young women in Guatemala through new education opportunities and learning.
The regional Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council recently announced that Soh has won a rare recognition, being named a 2018 National Gold Award Girl Scout. This top national ranking is issued to only 10 Girl Scouts who already have earned a Council-issued Gold Award. Today, Girls Scouts has about 1.8 million members.
Soh earned the Girl Scouts’ highest honor for developing a Spanish language literacy program for Mayan children in Guatemala whose families also speak a Mayan dialect. Preschool instruction is usually conducted in Spanish, the country’s official language.
She partnered with SANA Guatemala, which includes a clinic, preschool and library in Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala, to create a Spanish language children’s audiobook library program.
As a National Gold Award winner, Soh was invited with other winners to begin the day on Oct. 11 sharing the Today show’s outdoor stage with Mrs. Obama, who announced the Obama Foundation’s own initiative during the morning news show to boost options in education for girls across the globe.
Rather than be seated on stage, however, Soh, who was feeling ill, was placed into an area where Mrs. Obama walked from the studio to the outdoor stage. “I actually got to meet Mrs. Obama as she walked to the stage!” emailed an awed Soh after the event.
In addition to a great photograph with the former first lady, Soh was able to snap some photos of famous models, singers and actresses who were either in the audience or a show performer. They included supermodel Karlie Kloss and singer-actress celebrities Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Meghan Trainor and Zendaya.
Later in the same day, Soh joined other teens at the United Nations in New York City to discuss how to boost literacy and improve education opportunities for young girls living in poverty around the world.
At the United Nations, a special reception was also held for Soh and the other national award-winning Girl Scouts.
Both scheduled events were tied observance of the International Day of the Girl Child, highlighting the plight and future possibilities for girls worldwide, many of whom live in enduring poverty and illiteracy.
Soh’s winning project, known as Leer à Mi (Read to Me), even has a school district link – 15 SBISD students and teachers helped the Memorial High senior record more than 100 audio books for SANA’s school and library in Guatemala.
Five students who helped Soh with the recordings are with the Communities in Schools (CIS) program at Spring Branch Middle School, led by program manager Nelda Zuniga. The audio recordings also helped aid English as Second Language (ESL) learners who used the recordings to practice reading and English speaking skills.
Soh did not create her audiobook project overnight. She began visiting the Guatemalan town in middle school, observing how young, impoverished Mayan women and children lived. Many children struggled in primary schools and later dropped out of school early.
More than 400 children now visit the SANA library every month to listen to and read the available project books, and most of them score at or above reading level in Spanish by the time they enter the primary school, according to a Girl Scouts news release.
Scholarships totaling $20,000 will also be awarded to the Memorial High senior for her national award and achievements.
A National Merit Semifinalist, Soh has not decided yet where she will attend college or university. She hopes to study business, while also studying international relations, political science and Spanish.
“I’m excited to go to New York,” she said before leaving. “It’s an incredible honor to represent my troop, Girl Scouts Council, my school and the City of Houston. I also do think that it’s a tremendous opportunity to raise visibility and awareness for the people of Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala, as well as young children all over the world who are denied an education.”
Given the chance to speak out, Soh would deliver a message of hope about those living in poverty, and to people focused on finding solutions to so-called intractable problems.
“Never discount someone because of where they were born,” Soh stated in an email. “These kids were born in oppressive poverty in an isolated village in Guatemala, yet they are working hard to better their lives through education. By focusing on their own education, they are taking steps to improve their lives and the lives of their children.”
Calling girl illiteracy an “international epidemic,” Soh said the issue only appears to be overwhelming and unsolvable.
“If you focus on a small part of the problem like I did in Santa Maria de Jesus, you can help a lot of people. If everyone fixes a big problem in a small area, the huge problem of global illiteracy doesn’t seem so big and overwhelming,” she said.
Soh’s parents said their daughter’s national award validates an enormous effort put into her project. “The amount of time she spent in Guatemala on both of her Silver and Gold awards was staggering, hundreds if not thousands of hours,” said Kenneth Soh, her father.
“She had to fund raise from friends and family for infrastructure costs like library-quality headphones, CD players and books. She spent hours and days recruiting and sitting with Spanish speakers as they read books into a microphone and edited that content into her Macbook. She bypassed summer camps and vacations to travel to Guatemala to build this audio library and to teach preschoolers their lessons in Spanish,” Mr. Soh also said.
A news release about Soh’s recognition has been issued by the local Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council.
“We are truly honored to have a National Gold Award Girl Scout in our Council,” said the Council CEO, Mary Vitek. “Through her project, Susan showed extraordinary leadership in addressing a global issue, and I believe she will inspire other girls across the world to make a difference in their communities.”
To read the full local Girl Scouts Council news release, please visit: