Breaking Gender Barriers: Soundharya Vairavan


Soundharya Vairavan

Soundharya Vairavan (9) is an active scout in the BSA (Boy Scouts of America).

I’m Soundharya Vairavan and am currently in 9th grade. I grew up watching my brother participate in Boys Scouts and that inspired me to join a troop. However, I was not able to since it was restricted to boys only. Three years ago the BSA removed the restriction and renamed itself  to Scouts of America, allowing girls to participate. When the opportunity opened up, I quickly formed my own troop with my friends, officially becoming a scout.  

The perception that scouts are for boys, and girls are not suitable for adventurous and strenuous trips still exists. During trips, boys often teased girls, asking them to “go home,” as if to say we were not fit for it. But we did not care much for those comments. We continued on the trip, where we formed close bonds with our troop, saw each other through really hard moments, and built lifelong memories. 

A typical scouting schedule includes, camping for one or two nights in a month, backpacking where we carry approximately 20-25 pounds of supplies to last a one or two nights, and a yearly summer camp for a week at a far away location. It teaches you how to survive in the wilderness, make your own meals, and form close bonds with your fellow scouts. During the backpacking trips, we learned useful life skills, on how to survive with just the resources available around us. For example, when we ran out of  water to drink, we learned to get water from the rivers, and make it safe to drink using chlorine pills. Scouts also do a lot of community work such as beach clean ups and scouting for food.

With each year the scouts learn useful skills that allow them to progress through the ranks. A scout typically starts at Tenderfoot rank, which then progresses to First class, Second class, Star, Life and Eagle. To get to Eagle rank, scouts also need to complete 25 merit badges. Being part of a scouting troop gives scouts opportunities to hold leadership roles, such as SPL (Scout patrol leader), ASPL (Assistant SPL), patrol leaders, quartermaster, a scribe, and webmaster. 

 There are a lot of cool merit badge options to pick from, and each merit badge focuses on a specific life skill like swimming, hiking, basket weaving, and first aid. First aid is especially useful as we participate in a lot of wilderness camping trips, such as Philmont, where help is limited. The Philmont backpacking trip is one of the most rigorous camping trips that lasts for a week. Scouts need to build endurance as they hike on rough terrains carrying heavy backpacks and survive on the limited supplies. 

The pandemic definitely impacted how we engaged as a troop. We went online for most of the pandemic period. During this time, we still bonded as a troop and practiced some of our scouting skills by camping in our backyards. We also had frequent meetings over zoom and so we still spent a lot of time collaborating and coming up with ideas to serve the community during these difficult times. For example, my scout troop organized a mass fundraiser, where we sewed 1000 masks using donated fabric for hospitals and healthcare recruit troops, which was a really cool experience. I want to continue to serve the community and create a meaningful project so that I can achieve Eagle someday.