Many people know about the Girl Scout Cookie Program, but not very many are aware of where those cookies can take a girl!

Last summer, fifteen young women and nine adults from Girl Scouts of Northern California met up with a sister troop from New Hampshire to set out on an amazing adventure in Peru. We spent 10 days experiencing the culture, history, and sights of Peru throughout Lima, Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu and Puerto Maldonado.

Along with the time we spent exploring these cities, we also spent time performing three days of community service. The project that had the biggest impact on all of us was helping to build a workplace for the women in a village in Ollantaytambo. The women run a weaving guild to help support their families and, up until recently, they had to take turns traveling to the nearest guild office, which is about 20 miles from their home. This changed when an outside organization came to their village to help them build a space for them to use as an office, workplace, and storefront to sell their products.

When we arrived in the village, our Girl Scouts were amazing and got right to work with their “can do” attitudes! Our task during our time there was to complete building the adobe brick outer walls, then apply the stucco and mud to hold them together. For two days this group of young—and not so young!—adults worked for 6-7 hours a day without any complaints. We were hot and dirty, but it didn’t matter; we got through it by telling jokes and stories, interacting with the children in the village, and singing lots of Girl Scout songs to help pass the time.

When it came time to leave, there were tons of tears shed between our group and the families in the village. Many of our Girl Scouts were already asking about how they could come back and help some more—that alone was enough to tell me what an incredible impact this experience had made on our girls!

After a day trip to Machu Picchu, we returned to the city of Cuzco where we toured some of the famous sites throughout the city. I was impressed with how much the girls already knew about what we were seeing, taking on the role of our tour guide, using information they had learned through “homework” I had assigned prior to our trip. Even our tour director, who is from Peru, was impressed with the information the girls were able to share!

Girl Scouts in Peru

Our final stop in Cuzco was at an orphanage for girls. Some of the girls questioned why this stop was on our itinerary but, after we entered the gates and they saw the girls who were being taken care of there, their questioned disappeared. We had a short tour of the facilities before the fun truly began. Out came a soccer ball and the challenge was set—these girls were all ready to have some fun. Some of the girls played hard with the soccer ball for about an hour, while others learned a fun card game, played on the playground equipment, or just sat and talked. The common language they shared during this visit was compassion and joy.

What you need to know is that, if it weren’t for the boxes of cookies the girls sold, many of them would not have been able to share in this amazing experience. Two of our travelers paid for their trips completely through the cookie program and two thirds of the group benefited from the use of Cookie Rewards Cards to help them. They put a lot into their cookie businesses to turn their dreams into reality, but I think the skills learned and memories gained from selling cookies and traveling to Peru is something they will cherish forever. Many of them have set their sights on future trips, both through Girl Scouts and personal travel, and I have no doubt that cookies have helped them learn the values and skills they need to accomplish these goals!

Where will a box of cookies take a Girl Scout? Anywhere she sets her mind to.

For more information on how to start planning your troop’s big adventure, check out GSNorCal’s Volunteer Essentials!

Sandy Norman—Sandy has been a Girl Scout since 5th grade, during which she lived in Naples, Italy. She has been an Extended Troop Travel learning facilitator for 18 years and has loved helping other leaders learn how to travel with their troops! Sandy has also been leading council trips since 2010 and enjoys sharing her travel knowledge with GSNorCal girls and adults.

The Trailhead