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Disbanded Girl Scout troop vows to continue support for child war victims in Gaza

Nawal Abuhamdeh and her daughter Mariyah Abdelbaset hold a bracelet they made for a fundraiser to benefit the Palestine Children's Relief Fund
Emily Woodbury
Nawal Abuhamdeh, right, her daughter Mariyah Abdelbaset, left, and other members of former Girl Scouts Troop 149 will continue to make and sell bracelets to raise funds for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 28 with additional comments from the leaders of the former Girl Scout troop.

For its capstone “Agents of Change” project, Girl Scout Troop 149 in St. Louis County decided to raise money for the humanitarian nonprofit Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. They were inspired by other Girl Scouts troops that raised money for war victims in Ukraine.

“[The girls] said they wanted to earn money to support the people in Gaza who were suffering,” said troop co-leader Nawal Abuhamdeh. “They wanted to make friendship bracelets.”

On Jan. 13, the troop began making and selling beaded bracelets. Two days later, Abuhamdeh received an email from Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. The organization told her to stop the fundraising campaign and take down social media posts. If she did not, they wrote, “Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri and Girl Scouts of the United States have no other choice than to engage our legal counsel to help remedy this situation and to protect the intellectual property and other rights of the organization.”

Bracelets made of red, black, green and white beads with the words "Gaza" and "Palestine" on them
Emily Woodbury
Since Jan. 13, the members of former Girl Scouts Troop 149 have sold more than 2,000 friendship bracelets — totaling more than $10,000 in donations — to benefit child war victims in Gaza.

A press representative for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri told St. Louis on the Air that troops must follow a notice and approval process before fundraisers are started in the name of Girl Scouts. “That is why,” they wrote, “when other concerned members of our Scouting family and St. Louis community, brought Nawal’s activities to our attention, we reached out to her and attempted to work with her through our approval process.” (Abuhamdeh disputes that the organization offered to help with the approval process.)

Abuhamdeh said she was disappointed and hurt.

“It triggered a lot of thoughts and emotions that I felt when I was growing up here — being silenced and suppressed for being a Palestinian,” she said. “Saying the word ‘Palestinian’ or ‘Palestine,’ it was a taboo thing to talk about. It was something that I wasn't able to express. It even led me to begin telling people — when they asked me where I was originally from — to say Jerusalem because it felt [like] it was more comfortable for them.”

“But to us,” she added, “the real victims of injustice are those who we were raising the money for, and that's the children in Gaza."

The experience led Abuhamdeh, her troop’s co-leader Fazila Bobat, and the parents of the six other scouts to agree to disband Troop 149 from Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri.

Soon after Abuhamdeh’s story was picked up by news outlets across the country, Girl Scouts of the USA issued an apology for what happened with the girls and their troop.

"We are disappointed and disheartened by what recently transpired," said Bonnie Barczykowski, the chief executive officer for Girl Scouts of the USA. The statement continued: "[We] will be working alongside our council partners to review this incident and make the necessary adjustments to prevent it from happening in the future. We realize we missed an opportunity to champion our troops while they make a difference.”

Barczykowski added that the national organization had not approved the language in an email sent by Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri that threatened legal action against the St. Louis troop.

Abuhamdeh was with her fifth grade daughter Mariyah Abdelbaset when they learned of the national organization’s response. She said that Abdelbaset and the other scouts accepted the apology right away, but that they still felt hurt and unheard.

“The way [the girls] put it was, ‘We still want to know how this fundraiser was different and treated differently than the one in Ukraine,’” Abuhamdeh said.

Though they are now formally disbanded from Girl Scouts, Abuhamdeh said the group will remain together.

“We're a sisterhood. The girls feel very close to one another, and we don't feel as if Girl Scouts defines us,” she said. “We're going to continue to do amazing things in our communities and participate in not only activities that build our skills and teach us new skills, but also to help the world be a better place.”

The group also plans to continue its fundraiser. So far, it's raised more than $10,000 for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund.

“This not only taught me resilience, but also how important it is to stand up for what's right,” Abuhamdeh said. “If you feel like there was unjust done to you, you should speak up and use your voice. You don't know what impact you can make for others when you do.”

Nawal Abuhamdeh and her daughter Mariyah Abdelbaset sit on the steps outside St. Louis Public Radio on February 26, 2024
Emily Woodbury
Nawal Abuhamdeh and her daughter Mariyah Abdelbaset sit on the steps outside St. Louis Public Radio on Monday.

Nawal Abuhamdeh, Mariyah Abdelbaset and former Troop 149 co-leader Fazila Bobat joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss this story and what’s next for their group. Listen to the conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

St. Louis County Girl Scout Troop goes independent after legal threat

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

Correction: Mariyah Abdelbaset is a fifth grader. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report listed the wrong grade.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.