Nina Lim-Yuson — A lifetime of girl scouting
‘I have reached that point when it is not about success or what one accumulates in life, whether awards or accomplishments or material things. It is more about what I can share and scouting gives me that honor and privilege — to do my part in helping mold our young girls and making them aware even at an early age that they have a mission and worthy purpose in life.’
The president of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, Nina Lim-Yuson, grew up in a family and home of Girl Scouts. Her grandmother, Pilar Hidalgo-Lim, was one of the co-founders of the GSP. “It was actually my Lola Pilar who suggested to Josefa Llanes Escoda, the GSP founder, to go to America to learn about girl scouting.” This tidbit of history, Nina shared in an online interview with the DAILY TRIBUNE.
Pilar Hidalgo-Lim became GSP president, and so did Nina’s mother, Estefania Aldaba-Lim, who served as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Nina’s sister too, the eminent broadcast journalist, Cheche Lazaro, was a Girl Scout.
Coming from a lineage of women achievers, Nina could not have chosen a different path. It was scouting that formally introduced the family to social responsibility, skills development and citizenship. Her brothers were also Boy Scouts.
“I started when I was six years old and it was my Lola Pilar who inducted me as a Brownie. It used to be called Brownie because we were still using the American pattern,” she related.
She belonged to Troop Number One, the first to be organized by the GSP national headquarters. In high school at the Jose Abad Santos Memorial School of the Philippine Women’s University, she became a junior and later a senior Girl Scout. College would briefly end her Girl Scouting as she focused on her studies. Along the way, she also danced with the Bayanihan Folk Dance Company. It was not unexpected that she would return to scouting, her first love, and her first extra-curricular activity.
For the last 36 years, she has been active in various organizations and volunteer work. She founded the Museong Pambata. She is a recipient of “The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service” award and is active in its various social development efforts.
What Nina brings to her post is the legacy of leadership that had been passed on to her through generations of women leaders in the family. “My Lola Pilar was my idol. She was such a nice person and I never knew her totally as a president. I knew her more as a loving lola from all the stories she related when we rode up to Baguio.
“My mother, on the other hand, was the opposite. She was very career-minded. I learned naman from her a lot of things, like being thrifty and having a list of things to do. In terms of organization, she was like that. Because she was in government. And, you know, when we started Museo, while it was actually my concept, I learned a lot from her. She would call me up at 5 o’clock in the morning and she would rattle off what needed to be done, like ‘number one, number two and so on.’ That was her. And I’m glad that I worked with her for six years in Museo. She was the president and I was the executive director for six years. I took over in 2000 as president and chief executive officer. And then, I stepped down in 2017.”
Girl Scouts who read and tell stories
Nina was elected president of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines for the term 2021-2024 during its 2021 national convention.
From day one, she shared, “My purpose was to reach out to the community-based troops because we have always been school-based. Many young women now have social problems so we need to reach out to the communities through our community-based troops.”
Also on top of her priorities is literacy development, a cause that she addressed even in the Museo Pambata. She explained, “My advocacy has always been education. So, I was very concerned because the Asian Development Bank reported in 2022 that the World Bank found out that our Filipino children at ages 9 and 10 cannot read. So, I felt that because girl scouting is all over the country, with 96 local councils, the organization could serve as a vehicle for improving literacy in our country.
“We started the ‘Every Girl Scout, A Storyteller’ project because storytelling affects the heart first before the mind. When young people start with storytelling, they will love the stories and then the written word. They would then want to read.
“We now have storytelling in economically challenged communities and we have partners. We sent out 2,500 books throughout the country with the help of our partner couriers.”
Initially, she sought the help of her family foundation “to give a donation. I also sought the help of Ging Montinola, who is into literacy development. Together, we founded the literacy program. We are building this fund to cover the cost of buying children’s books. We will have a storytelling contest next year.”
Raising funds for Camp Escoda
Nina then shifted the conversation to another major endeavor that she is spearheading as GSP president — fundraising for the 27-hectare Camp Josefa Llanes Escoda in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija, which was donated by the provincial government during the term of Governor Amado Aleta, the father of consul and civic leader Fortune Ledesma.
“Palayan is beautiful because it has rolling hills, but it doesn’t have electrical and water facilities and roadworks. It doesn’t have a swimming pool, and it’s so hot in Nueva Ecija. It also does not have a conference hall. This is a big one-time fundraising project because it’s for the future of the girls who are going to the camp. Because as of now, if you go camping there, you have to walk up the hills to get your drinking water. You have to make buhos to take a bath.”
She recalled, “In my time as a young Girl Scout, which was of another era, we had to walk in the dark to fetch water to fill up two drums. I was so scared because there were tuko in Los Baños. That taught me to be courageous. Camps really build up your lifetime skills and attitude. Camping is very integral in girl scouting and boy scouting. So, this camp will serve a purpose. It just needs various basic facilities to make it world-class and convenient with the proper amenities, but the girls will continue to learn all those survival techniques and appreciate nature right on the camp.”
She praised architect Pippo Carunungan, “who is an environmental planner. He surveyed the site and drew up everything. It will be a beautiful camp, he said, because it’s a gift of nature.”
First Lady as Chief Girl Scout
Nina, along with Leonida “Baby” Bayani Ortiz, recently led the Girl Scouts in a fundraising ball attended by the “First Lady, Liza Araneta-Marcos, who is our Chief Girl Scout. It’s mandated in the GSP constitution that whoever is the female president of the country or the First Lady is the Chief Girl Scout. In the past, we had Imelda Marcos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. All the first ladies were all Chief Girl Scouts.
“Mrs. Liza Marcos spoke before us and she promised to help. She said, ‘We will make it the best campsite.’ Everyone was excited to see her and she obliged everyone who asked to have selfie with her. She is very friendly. She is really a Girl Scout.”
Nina shared, “A generous couple is sponsoring the swimming pool at P6 million, while a gentleman entrepreneur is sponsoring the perimeter fence at P1.5 million. Many other businessmen and leaders have pledged to help build this dream GSP project.
“We really need to raise about 50 million to have a very good camp. But when the First Lady heard about it, she said, ‘It has to be P250 million.’ But, really, when we have the funds, we can have deep toilets that have running water instead of tabo-tabo. Since we have a little Pampanga river that runs across the camp, we can build a bridge that crosses it and then the girls can have white-water rafting there in the Pampanga river.
“Camp Escoda will be a very important and significant venue for our Girl Scouts to gather, bond, learn new skills and develop as morally upright citizens of the country and the world. It is especially so because camping is integral in any Girl Scout’s life. If you don’t have camping, it’s like half of your scouting life is missing. Every Girl Scout remembers that time of her youth. And being the national camp, it will welcome Girl Scouts representing the 96 councils from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao who will participate in various events and trainings.”
Girl Scouts of all ages
As GSP president, Nina travels to various parts of the country. “We have regional conferences aside from the meeting of the Central Board when regional heads and executives come to Manila.
“I had just come from Baguio where I stayed for two-and-a-half days. I met our young Girl Scout representatives from ages 14 to 18. I enjoyed listening to them and exchanging ideas with them. I am so happy that we have a wealth of intelligent girls who want to serve the country. They are the ones who are going to take over.
“It’s amazing that GSP is no longer limited to old people on the board. We finally have young ones on the board. Our Escoda committee is headed by Jade Delgado from Iloilo. Then we have Justine Bautista. She’s a psychometrician. She heads the Program Committee, which is a big committee because when we were in Baguio, we had 86 girls from all the councils throughout the country. Many of them are running for SK.
“So, in my 70s now, which I don’t feel at all, I don’t take any medicines or something like that. Being with young people is what inspires me. Because at 15, 16 or 17, they already know that they have some kind of a mission.”
Nina proudly shared that the venue of the Baguio conference, ‘Ating Tahanan’ on the South Drive was bought during the tenure of my Lola Pilar. We have four buildings there, including the houses of Senator and actor Rogelio de la Rosa and Carlos Valdes, the accountant. Lola Pilar, according to Carlos Valdes, twisted his arm to get a low price. I’m so thankful for all those who preceded me because they bought these places. It’s on South Drive which is so valuable. We even have a reserved forest behind us.”
As she looks forward to the next camping and gets even busier raising funds for Camp Escoda, Nina feels elated that “every one of us in the Girl Scouts has been together in our various undertakings. The nice thing is we are now intergenerational because we try to bring in the old with experience, institutional memory and their wisdom born of their long life, and the young who are full of enthusiasm, energy and new ideas.”
A star scout for a granddaughter
While Nina does her part for the bright future of girl scouting in the country, her personal family too has not stopped contributing to the roster of members to this worldwide organization.
Today, a granddaughter of hers, seven-year-old Rocio Yuson de Guzman, is a Star Scout. She is the daughter of Nina’s daughter, Nicky.
No grandmother could have been prouder. Nina said, “Rufio loves being a star scout. When I arrived from the recent world conference in Cyprus, I came back with some badges and I gave some to Rufio who is very proud of the little badges that I got for her.”
For sure, Nina will pass on not just the badges to Rufio. More importantly, she will give her granddaughter the once-in-one’s-childhood experience of being a Girl Scout and learning “the values that are identified in the Girl Scout Promise and Laws. I think that while there is so much to enjoy and learn, it is the inculcation of these values that would mold her into a well-rounded human being. As we all know, a Girl Scout’s honor is to be trusted. A Girl Scout is loyal, thrifty, courteous… and so on. It’s like a mantra — the values that one lives by.
“I have reached that point when it is not about success or what one accumulates in life, whether awards or accomplishments or material things. It is more about what I can share and scouting gives me that honor and privilege — to do my part in helping mold our young girls and making them aware even at an early age that they have a mission and worthy purpose in life. It is not just about being good and outstanding on your own but it is also about helping others to become better in what they’re doing and live better lives.
“And I need not look far. As a grandmother, I dote on my Star Scout granddaughter, Rufio. There’s a world out there for her to discover and in which she has a role to play and use the skills and values she will learn from scouting.”
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