Girl Scouts, chess molded Murali into a leader

By Jennifer Zahn
Oct. 26, 2012

Anjana Murali’s family doesn’t own a TV, and she said it shows.

“It frees up my time,” Murali said. “I like to feel engaged.”

A junior at Shorewood High School and honor roll student, Murali already has a robust résumé. Her array of commitments includes student council, several science clubs, the chess and tennis teams, the school newspaper and the Girl Scouts.

This year, Murali is vying for her Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ highest achievement. Only 5.4% of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the award, which honors the completion of a seven-step project that resolves a community problem in the short and long term, according to the Girl Scouts of America website.

Murali hopes to earn her award with “Queen’s Game,” an all-girls chess camp she has been organizing for months after receiving a $1,200 grant from Lead2Change, an organization that supports community service projects developed by young people. Inspired by an experience she had as a child at her first chess tournament, Murali hopes her efforts will help equalize the gender disparity in chess.

“A guy looked at me and said to his friend, ‘I’ll be out of here in 10 seconds,’ ” Murali said. “He did beat me quickly, but it was really discouraging that it was all boys. I wanted to get better and beat these guys who thought they were better than me.”

She did get better. Two years later, Murali became the girls all-state chess champion. Since then, she has also competed and been ranked nationally. But her game slowed down as high school courses became more demanding and her father, who taught her how to play, moved to Texas for his job as a software engineer.

Although she still plays with her former chess coach every Sunday, she is now primarily concerned with leveling the playing field for girls in the sport.

“I’d love to see more female participation and show chess is not only a game,” Murali said. “In chess tournaments, it’s a touch-move policy – you take a long time before touching a piece because you have to think of a whole series of calculations. In life, you implement the same cause-effect procedure.”

Even as many of her peers began leaving the Girl Scouts in middle school, Murali said she stayed a member because she was aware of the leadership opportunities the organization provided for older girls.

Murali took advantage of these opportunities – she has already earned her Bronze and Silver Awards, served on a team of girls charged with organizing the 2012 Girls’ World Forum and was nominated to the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast’s board of directors this year. Receiving her Gold Award would be the ultimate capstone to her career as a Scout.

“(Anjana is) a really great organizing force and great at bringing clarity,” said Aidwa Aidoo, global action manager for the Girl Scouts of America. “She’s a wonderful listener and very supportive of her group members.” 

A rough introduction

Murali’s leadership traits emerged from her family’s turbulent transition to Helena, Mont., in 2001 after emigrating from India. Shortly after Murali began school there, the 9-11 attacks happened.

“I got a call from school, and the teacher said, ‘Anjana is so great and bright, but at recess, she’s sitting all alone,’ ” said Lalitha Murali, Anjana’s mother. “(Anjana) even came home one day and asked, ‘Why is my skin brown? Can you take me to Wal-Mart to get me a cream to make me white like my friends?’ “

The discrimination escalated to attacks, and resulted in a smashed car windshield and property damage, according to Anjana Murali.

“People didn’t know how to react (to 9-11),” Anjana Murali said. “They turned to us because we were the scapegoat – the ones who were different.”

The Murali family responded proactively, providing classroom presentations on Indian culture and a booth at the Helena fair featuring cuisine, dance, henna and other Indian customs, according to Lalitha Murali. She also began enrolling her daughter in social activities, which included the Girl Scouts.

“(My mom) put (me and my sister) in Girl Scouts to make friends and learn the culture – camping, movies and sleepovers – and assimilate us to the new country,” Anjana Murali said.

When Anjana Murali graduates from Shorewood in 2014, she will also graduate from the Girl Scouts – Scout activities are designed for girls 18 and under – but she won’t be done with the organization she has belonged to for almost a decade. She said she will be a lifelong member, and she plans on continuing to volunteer for the organization and for the chess camp she hopes to sustain as an annual event. 

Game on

“Queen’s Game” is a free chess camp and will take place Dec. 14 and 15 at Glen Hills Middle School in Glendale. Girls ages 5 to 18 will receive instruction from Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation players and compete in a five-game tournament to win prizes: trophies, medals, chess sets, chess videos and more. Snacks, lunch and T-shirts will be provided.


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