Photos: A year in Utah with an all-girl, international Boy Scouts of America troop

The Salt Lake Tribune tagged along camping, swimming and to other outings.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hser Ku and Cha Wah sit by the fire while camping with their Boy Scouts troop at Jordanelle State Park on Friday, June 10, 2022.

Jordanelle State Park • After the girls finished setting up their Springbar tents one warm evening in June, the sun was still high enough in the sky that they were determined to squeeze in a dip in Jordanelle Reservoir before cooking dinner.

In a shallow area near the shore, 16-year-old Safi Hassen practiced doing the backstroke, accidentally splashing one of her friends.

“Hey!” the girl said. Hassen giggled, “I’m learning!”

The group played a quick game of Marco Polo before drying off and climbing back up a hill to their campsites, as the sun fell closer to the horizon. They gathered around a picnic table to eat chicken, Thai instant MAMA Noodles and asparagus, with Sriracha sauce — a must-pack item on their camping trips — within reach.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Walking to the campground during an overnight trip in June.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ehnay Paw leading the way as fellow troop members help pull their gear.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hser Ku and Cha Meh set up a tent.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ehney Paw and Safi Hassen splash in the reservoir before dinner.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roe Shar, right, squeezes some Sriracha sauce on her food as she eats dinner with her Boy Scout troop.

The campers are part of an all-girl, international Boy Scouts of America troop based in Salt Lake County. A Salt Lake Tribune reporter and photographer tagged along on their meetings and outings over the past year. The Boy Scouts of America began welcoming younger girls in 2018, and invited girls 11 to 17 to its Scouts BSA programs in 2019.

In August, these Scouts practiced first-aid training, treating sprains and applying bandages. Over the fall and winter, they went swimming — one of the girls’ favorite activities. By summer, they were camping.

Going to Camp Loll in Wyoming is one of leader Stacey Unck’s favorite memories from the last few years with the troop. The first time the girls went, they were pretty timid. That is, until they won a game of tug of war against the boys.

The next year, the girls “showed up with a little bit more swagger,” said Unck. “They started braiding people’s hair. They made a brand for themselves. … Everybody knew who they were.”

There are roughly 25 girls, who are between the ages of 11 and 17, in the troop. They come from several countries, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Somalia, among others. Now, they live across the Salt Lake Valley, in the Taylorsville, West Valley City and Magna areas, where troop leaders pick them up each week for meetings.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roe Shar, right, holds an Eagle Scout award for her brother, Pi Oon, during a Court of Honor ceremony in June 2021.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roe volunteers as Linda Bain gives a first-aid demonstration during a troop meeting in August of last year.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jamuna Subba gives the scout sign and repeats the Scout Oath during a Board of Review.

As the girls have learned skills and worked toward merit badges each week, their troop leaders have been learning along with them. Many of the adults had not participated in Boy Scouts before, either.

“When I was their age, I would have loved to have something like this,” said April Baek, “because I moved from Korea. My parents were always working.” Baek finds it exciting to help the girls explore all of these activities, she said.

Saborn Va has a similar feeling, he said. Va came to the U.S. as a refugee from Cambodia, and he joined the Boy Scouts when he was about 12 years old. Now, he helps lead international Boy Scouts of America troops for children who are refugees in Utah, he said, as a way “to make an impact in my community.”

“I’ve lived in gang-infested neighborhoods. I’ve seen what kids become if they don’t have some kind of positive influence, something good to do in their life,” Va said.

Roe Shar’s brother is in the local international Boy Scouts of America troop for boys. When she learned one Sunday at church about a similar group for girls, she decided to sign up with some friends.

Now, a few years later, Shar, 15, said the girls in the troop have become a “family.” Thein Win — their patrol leader — is “really spirited” and “energetic” and a “boss lady,” according to Shar, who’s the assistant patrol leader.

“She’s really confident. She loves talking to people,” Shar said. “And then that made me feel like I should be confident, too.”

Shar kept that in mind as she filled in for Win during the camping trip at Jordanelle State Park in June. Shar found a rock to hammer in the stakes after working with Hassen, 16-year-old Ehnay Paw and 15-year-old Noor Mohamad to figure out which way to position their tent.

“You did great. … I’m so proud of you guys,” Hassen said, smiling when they had finished. This was her first camping trip with her fellow Scouts.

Shar and the other girls, she said, have “accomplished things that they really want to do,” as a troop.

“If you put your mind to it, you can do it,” she said. “And just never tell yourself to give up because it’s not going to really get you anywhere.”

Hassen said “it’s just so beautiful” to have so many diverse people in Scouts, and she thinks more girls should join.

“You don’t feel as much eyes on you,” Shar said. “You just feel like you can do whatever you want. You can express yourself, and there’s just no judgment.”

Many of the girls are quick to say that swimming is their favorite activity.

“I didn’t even think I would even pass my swim test,” Eh Chu Na Moo Gay said. Now, though, the 17-year-old works as a lifeguard in Taylorsville, and she hopes it will be a good experience to help her work in the medical field one day.

One evening in October, the girls grabbed blue goggles and red and yellow kickboards before hopping in the pool at the Northwest Recreation Center in Salt Lake City.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Scouts get some swimming instruction from Sarah Shumway, middle, during a troop swimming activity in December.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Noor Mohammad, left, and Hser Ku practice their kicking.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kee Paw gets encouragement from her fellow Scouts.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Yel Paw, left, practices her backstroke as Allie Henson instructs her.

In one lane, the beginners practiced the frontstroke. In another, the more experienced swimmers went underwater with their goggles to see how Unck did the breaststroke. “Oh!” one girl exclaimed, as she popped back up above the surface.

Some girls decided to try diving in the deep end. Mareai Meh, 14, walked close to the edge, got in position and looked down at the water before stepping back again, as others jumped in around her. One girl did a belly flop, making them all laugh.

Meh kept contemplating, wanting to dive, her nerves getting the better of her on each attempt. Her fellow Scouts kept encouraging her. Finally, Meh tipped over and dove into the water. Her friends cheered.

After they dried off and changed out of their swimsuits, the girls waited in the hallway to be driven home.

“Hey, swim test passer!” Unck proudly exclaimed as one of the girls exited the locker room.

In early July, the troop prepared to go to Camp Loll again, getting their physicals done and inspecting their tents.

As they wrapped up their meeting, the adult leaders talked with the girls about unity and what that word means. They remembered their recent camping trip, where the girls had to work together to push and pull heavy wagons up and down dirt paths to get to their campsites. It took a lot of effort — they stopped to look at a deer in a nearby field, giving them time to catch their breath — but they did it.

Then, Baek, the troop leader who came from Korea, recounted how the girls prevailed against the boys in tug of war their first year — a memory that makes the girls smile.

If you can work together as a team, Baek told them, “there’s nothing that will stop you, really.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Safi Hassen and Eh Chu Na Moo Gay practice setting up a tent in July as the two prepare for another trip.