Josefa Llanes Escoda founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines in 1940, but she would not live to see the association take its place on the world stage. Here is her story:
Josefa was born in Dingras, Illocos Norte on September 20, 1898, the eldest of seven children. After finishing high school, she earned a teaching degree from the Philippine Normal School in 1919, followed by a high school teacher’s certificate from the University of the Philippines in 1922. She then became a social worker for the Philippine Chapter of the American Red Cross, and was granted a scholarship to the United States, where she earned a Masters degree in Sociology from the University of Columbia in 1925. While in the US, she met Antonio Escoda. Back in the Philippines, they would marry and later had two children.
On her second trip the US in 1939, Josefa trained with the Girl Scouts of the USA and upon her return to the Philippines, began to train Filipino women to become Girl Scout Leaders and organize troops. On May 26, 1940, President Manuel Quezon signed the charter of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, with Josefa as the first National Executive.
With the arrival of Japanese Troops in 1941, Girl Scouting officially ceased operations, but under Josefa’s leadership, leaders and volunteers worked underground to relieve the suffering of prisoners and civilians. Their work included:
- Conveying messages of families to prisoners of war
- Keeping records of the names and addresses of Filipino prisoners of war at Camp O’Donnel in Capas, Tarlac
- Collecting food, medicine, clothing, shoes, and other supplies and secretly delivering them to prisoners of war and American internees in concentration camps
- Collecting information and relaying it to the resistance movement
- Setting up and running community kitchens to feed the poor and hungry in Manila
By 1944, the work of Josefa and her husband was discovered by Japanese military agents. Antonio was arrested in June and Josefa in August, both being sent to Fort Santiago, an infamous prison during the Japanese occupation. Josefa was last seen alive on January 6, 1945, weak and showing signs of having been severely beaten. At that time, she was put on a Japanese transport truck and it is believed that she was executed and buried in an unmarked grave in La Loma Cemetery, Manila, along with thousands of other Filipinos who resisted the Japanese occupation.
It is a testament to Josefa Llanes Escoda that the Girl Scouts of the Philippines were able to quickly reorganize following the liberation of the Philippines. The association was admitted as a Tenderfoot Member of WAGGGS in 1946, and a Full Member in 1948.