Every year, the Girl Scouts of America selects 10 girls to receive the National Young Women of Distinction award, which recognizes them for their exceptional Gold Award project. As part of the award, each recipient will be given $10,000 as scholarship money for college. This year, Mira Costa senior Pooja Nagpal, was chosen as one of the 10 recipients of the award.
“I was so unbelievably surprised when I found out,” Nagpal said. “Some of these other young women, and many of whom are in college, have done such unbelievable things and helped so many people, it’s so amazing to be among them.”
Nagpal was nominated by Girl Scouts of Los Angeles for the award. For her Gold Award project, Nagpal went to India in 2013 to teach girls at Arya Samaj School self defense. As a second-degree black belt in taekwondo, Nagpal took skills that she had learned and incorporated it into the self and street defense that she was teaching the girls. Along with the defense skills Nagpal was teaching, every day she also had discussions about women empowerment with the girls.
“I am very passionate about the elimination of violence against women,” Nagpal said. “I am a very strong supporter of activism rather than advocacy: actually doing something about a cause rather than campaigning for it or talking about it. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to contribute my skills and passion for a great cause.”
During the month that Nagpal was in India, she and her sister, Meera, were in the process of completing their Gold Awards. Meera would teach the girls English for 2-3 hours before they went outside for defense training with Nagpal. After training, Pooja and the girls went into a classroom for women empowerment discussions, worksheets, and other activities.
“The experience was truly phenomenal,” Nagpal said. “It was amazing to see the transformation in the girls in the village. They were so motivated to learn the techniques, and honestly, they became so strong. It was interesting to see how them becoming physically stronger translated into mental strength. The women empowerment discussions we had were inspiring. The girls made drawings, skits, speeches about the power that a women can have on the world. It was so cool to see the girls taking a stand to break down cultural barriers of patriarchy and inequality.”
Since completing her Gold Award, Nagpal has gone on to create a non-profit organization known as For a Change, Defend. Nagpal has also partnered several domestic violence shelters, worked with the Los Angeles Police Dept. and homeless shelters for women.
Nagpal also went back to India this past summer and taught over 600 women and girls self defense. She went to several villages and two cities to teach women and girls from rural areas as well as girls at a blind institute.
Nagpal will receiver the National Young Women of Distinction award in New York in October and then in November she will give a TEDx talk.
“These experiences have changed my life,” Nagpal said. “In New York I will be speaking in front of thousands of people and I hope to use this award to further the awareness of this cause.”