Strong together

Xinrou Tan, left, and Maysaa Khalaf met last year at a YWE (Young Women Executives) Camp offered by Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska in Nebraska City. They bonded over shared struggles with a new language and culture.

Maysaa Khalaf, 19, is from Iraq.

Behind that simple sentence is a story – both harrowing and uplifting.

Xinrou Tan, 29, is from Malaysia.

Another simple string of words, another incredibly inspiring story.

Fate brought both to Lincoln as young women. They met in 2017, at Catron Camp and Retreat Center in Nebraska City, where Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska was holding a YWE (Young Women Executives) Camp that matches teens with adult mentors for five days of personal and professional development coupled with hiking, swimming, archery and a challenge course.

Maysaa was paired with Xinrou, and the two immediately bonded over their shared struggles with a new language and culture.

“Growing up in one culture and trying to assimilate to another is a little scary,” Tan says.

Khalaf’s path to YWE Camp began almost 11,000 miles away in northern Iraq. ISIS enters the story here – the harrowing part. The militant group targeted the teen’s family because of their Yazidi religious beliefs. Forced to flee their home – and relocate several times – they immigrated to the United States in June 2016 and settled in Lincoln.

Khalaf, now a senior at Lincoln North Star High School, got involved in Girl Scouts and YWE Camp to acclimate.

The camp's message resonated: "It’s all about you as a woman and how you can be a leader. ... We’re strong, and we can change the world,” Khalaf says.

Tan was 15 when she moved from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her circumstances were different, but her goal was the same: a better life. “My mom saw opportunity for us.”

Tan graduated from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln in 2010 and began her career at Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha. Today, she's a data and artificial intelligence solutions specialist with Microsoft in New York City.

She has been volunteering with Girl Scouts and YWE Camp since 2012.

“I love it so much that I’ve been back three times,” she says of the camp. “You’re spending five days doing a lot of team-building and personal interaction with your mentee. You get to know that person. We share our life journeys, which includes our struggles, challenges and barriers.”

Khalaf says Tan pushes her forward and wants her to be successful.

The same can be said of the Girl Scouts’ support team — organizations, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, that back outreach and volunteer efforts to keep YWE Camps free for girls in grades 9 to 12 who apply for a spot.

“It’s one of the most meaningful and impactful programs our council has created,” says Wendy Hamilton of Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “We’re all about building girls of courage, confidence and character, and empowering them. One of the ways we do that is by making sure they have strong, supportive adults in their lives.”

Mentors span all interests, industries and personalities. By fearlessly giving back, Hamilton says, they’re filling their buckets, too. “The connections you make are just as valuable as the impact you have on the girls.”

Tan returns to Nebraska for several Girl Scouting events a year and keeps in touch with her mentees. (She and Khalaf recently spent a few days together in New York.)

“I know these girls have a lot to give back to society, and I want to be a part of that process,” Tan says.

Khalaf says she isn’t sure what she would like to pursue as a career — maybe something in management. But she knows she'd love to be a YWE mentor, if they’ll have her.

“Of course,” Hamilton says.

Another simple string of words – with the potential to inspire.

“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same. Read more on omaha.com

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