Girl Scouts in Japan receive 'Good Deed' citation at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo
May 30, 2012
TOKYO (May 30, 2012) -- Girl Scouts from an Army installation in Japan were recognized May 26, at the site of the country's largest Shinto shrine for aid they provided to children displaced by the earthquake and tsunami that struck here last year.
Three representatives from the Girl Scouts at Camp Zama accepted a citation from the Japan Good Deed Association during a ceremony held at the Meiji Shrine, located in the capital city's Shibuya ward.
The Scouts' nomination for the award came as a result of a donation initiative known as "Operation Backpacks," which they organized just weeks after the dual natural disasters devastated much of Japan's northeast coast in March 2011.
The program involved the collection of essential items -- new clothes and blankets, snack foods, hygiene items, new or gently used toys, stationary items -- that were sent in backpacks to the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 children who lost their homes, possessions and even family members.
"We didn't do it to get recognition, but when we received the award we felt proud knowing that we helped Japan anyway," said Maria Cabral, one of the Girl Scouts who accepted the citation onstage at Meiji Shrine's Sanshuden Hall. "I've never been to a ceremony that big before, so it was a great privilege for me and for all of us."
Though the initial goal was for each Scout to collect enough items to fill two backpacks, the donation drive blossomed over the next two months as news of the project spread via Facebook and media coverage.
Boxes of various items and backpacks soon began arriving from individual citizens and businesses from across the U.S., New Zealand, throughout Europe and even the country of Qatar. The Scouts eventually collected enough items to fill more than 9,000 backpacks, which were delivered to Japanese children by Soldiers from Camp Zama.
After receiving the citation and a plaque during Saturday's ceremony, Girl Scout Alishia Johnson gave a speech to JGDA representatives during which she thanked them for recognizing their efforts. She also said the project reinforced the Scouts' values and goals.
"We learned the importance of community and teamwork through Operation Backpacks," said Alishia. "We saw how Girl Scouts can serve as a bridge to bring hope to the children who lost everything. We experienced how a small idea can inspire great results."
Representing U.S. Army Garrison Japan at the event was the unit's command sergeant major, who lauded Japan for having an organization that recognizes the good deeds and conduct of both its citizens and international groups and personnel throughout the country.
"Getting an award is not what [the Scouts] set out to do, but it's important to recognize when people are doing the right thing," said Command Sgt. Maj. Scarlett Stabel. "This is an awesome, positive and inspiring example of the great things people are doing."