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Girl Scout Creates Project to Raise Awareness of Japanese-American Incarceration

“Experience the Past” is a Girl Scout Gold Award project that aims to promote awareness of WWII-era internment camps.
Image: Entrance to Manzanar at the Manzanar Relocation Center in California
Entrance to Manzanar, Manzanar Relocation CenterAnsel Adams / Courtesy of the Library of Congress via

Lauren Wong grew up hearing her grandmother’s stories of her incarceration at Tule Lake Segregation Center. Although she was inspired to learn more about Japanese-American history because of her grandmother, she found that it was neglected in history classes at school.

“Students do not generally get the opportunity to learn about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans during World War II," Wong said in a blog post for the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles. "Even today, many of my school friends do not know about the camps.”

RELATED: Senate Bill Would Name Tule Lake, Largest Japanese Internment Camp, Historic Site

This lack of awareness inspired Wong — who is a Girl Scout Ambassador for Troop 881 in Anaheim, California — to create an educational tool called “Experience the Past” for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. The Gold Award is the highest achievement for a Girl Scout, and requires applicants to spotlight a community issue and create a program to educate, inspire, and promote awareness of that issue.

“Experience the Past” provides three worksheets targeting different age groups — one for elementary school students, one for middle school students, and one for high school students and adults. The worksheets can be requested any day at JANM, and guide a viewing of the museum's core exhibition, “Common Ground: The Heart of Community,” with questions and exercises that prompt conversation and provoke deeper thought for visitors.

RELATED: Digital Project Aims to Preserve Stories of Incarcerated Japanese Americans

"My goal is to educate the general public and inspire them to appreciate the lives they have today and not let history repeat itself," Wong wrote in her blog post.

JANM offers Girl Scouts couts another opportunity to earn patches through their own Girl Scout programs, which revolve around their temporary exhibitions. In January, a private tour of JANM’s current exhibition, Giant Robot Biennale 4, was made available to Girl Scouts, who also attended a zine-making workshop with artist Yumi Sakugawa, whose work is featured in the exhibition.

Previous exhibitions with Girl Scout patch programs include a Hello Kitty exhibition, a mixed-race exhibition focusing on identity, and an origami exhibition. Lynn Yamasaki, School Programs Director for JANM, told NBC News that, when assessing an exhibition for a Girl Scout program, JANM seeks “something that is appealing to a younger audience and also one that has some sort of activity to go along with it.”

RELATED: Seventy Years After Manzanar, the Stories of Incarceration Live On

“It’s been a really good experience for us," Yamasaki said of working with Girl Scouts to provide a deeper insight into Asian-American history and identity. "It started out as a partnership outreach with the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles and has become a program that we are really happy to continue.”

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