Elizabeth Rath and Kristin Brown not only represented Sierra Leone at a globally focused Girl Scouts event Saturday, but also they shared first-hand experience.
Rath, 17, of Moline, and Brown, 15, of Geneseo, Ill., spent a few weeks last year living at an orphanage in the West African country as part of a church mission trip.
“I felt like I was at home,” Rath said, adding that she could relate to the children at the orphanage because she was adopted herself.
Both members of Girl Scouts Troop 5073 of Moline, the girls chose Sierra Leone as their country to showcase Saturday during the Journey the World event held at the Davenport RiverCenter.
On their table were facts about the country and a plate of “paw paw,” or papaya. They wore casual dresses typical of those worn by women in Sierra Leone as Rath’s 12-year-old sister Hannah explained how African women balance a bucket on their head while walking for miles to and from the nearest well.
“If they were to fall, they’d probably spill everything,” Hannah Rath said.
About 40 countries were represented at the event, said Shelly Wells Cain, the vice president of development and marketing with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.
“We’re honoring World Thinking Day,” she said. “Scouts think about their sisters in other parts of the world.”
About 3,000 people, including Scouts and adult volunteers, were expected to attend the event.
Randy Rattenborg, a volunteer with Troop 7233 of Manchester, Iowa, served “pebre,” a salsa from Chile, although he had to supplement it with tomatoes because it was much too spicy.
“I’d love to go there someday,” he said of the South American country. His family hosted a foreign exchange student from Chile, and that was one reason his troop picked the country for the event.
Janet Choplick, a Girl Scouts membership outreach manager, said her Troop 5106 from Cedar Rapids picked the southern African country of Zimbabwe because of her children’s interest in music.
“They believe health and well-being are linked to music,” she explained.
She invited a group of young Scouts over to her table to test some handmade African instruments. Some banged on a “talking” drum while others shook a shakere, which is made from a hollowed-out gourd and covered with beads. One child tried plucking a kalimba, sometimes referred to as a thumb piano, with her fingertips.
Troop 7106 of Clinton picked Norway for its food. Rebekah Jaeger, 11, said Norwegians eat waffles for breakfast every day, but they serve them with jam, not maple syrup.
“The food is good,” she said, offering waffles with jam to children attending the event.
Rath and Brown said they ate a lot of rice, fish and eggs during their visit to Sierra Leone.
While they have fond memories of the trip, they said the first night there did not go so well.
Brown had her camera stolen at the airport. At one point, Rath was surrounded by a crowd of curious men. One proposed marriage to her.
But both girls say they want to return. Rath is even planning to spend a year there after she graduates from high school.
Both girls say they want to be professional photographers when they grow up. Brown said she will make sure to keep a closer eye on her camera in the future.