We love an unusual take on things here at AOW, and when this ‘friend that made me me’ landed in our inbox, I screeched (fairly loudly) that I would introduce it. Because, you see, it’s about Guiding. Girl Guiding.
I’m willing to bet that an awful lot of the AOW community have been involved in the Guiding Association at some point in their life, and it just screams ‘Junior AOWers’ to me. Perhaps we should set up a buddy scheme, pairing Brownies with their very own AOWoman, who could give them advice on important things like books and boys, and support them through the tough teenage years? Think how many problems it would solve. I’ll speak to Cameron about it.
But back to the point. I was a Brownie (we didn’t have rainbows back in my day), and then a Guide, and then a Young Leader, and then once I was eighteen, I became a full Guider, and Official Snowy Owl. And loved it. And then, to my shame,not long after university, I let it lapse. But I have so much to thank that organisation for. They taught me to sew, to be polite to older people, to build a campfire, to work in a team, and to put up a tent in torrential downpour. I met the Queen, I travelled around Europe, and I slept in any number of Welsh village halls, all because of this fabulous association. I’d say that’s a pretty rounded education, wouldn’t you?
Katy writes brilliantly here about her experience with this wonderful association, and it serves as a great reminder, to me anyway, how bloody brilliant Guiding is, and why we should support it. (I’m off to find out about Guiding in KL….)
I think this is nearly as close as I can come to the “Friends that made me me” series. I have really lovely awesome friends but none that have been with me for as long or changed my life as much as Girl Guiding.
I have been in Guiding since I was 5. A tiny little Rainbow, in a little green tabard (I’m sure there were a few of you doing that as well!). I don’t remember much apart from some important skills like learning to plait and identify different bugs in the garden.
I moved to Hong Kong when I was a child but luckily I could move in Guiding too. One really awesome thing about Guiding is that it’s international, and every year on ‘Thinking Day’ we all raise money for and think about those units where meeting is trickier. Places where they can’t afford a trip or to buy uniform, in this country. Places where girls don’t have any other forum in other countries. It’s a real global community.
When I was 7 I became a Brownie (in the 44th Island Pack) and wore a dress and shiny shoes. I learnt to tie a reef knot, address a letter and light a match safely. I learnt silly songs and played with my friends and stayed away from home.
We moved back to England just as I became a Guide. Guides is the longest running section, it turned 100 in 2010. In the war Guides helped as sea rangers, the royal family have all been guides and quietly still are, Guides spread all over the world as Girl Scouts and brought together communities everywhere. At its heart is still learning outdoor skills, in Guides I camped and learnt to build and cook on a campfire, make washing up stands or shoe racks out of wood and lashing, sing slightly bawdy silly songs…
It is at this stage that we lose the most girls. Being a Guide when you’re 10 is OK, when you’re 14 it’s not cool. I remember being teased about it, but I was proud of pushing myself and learning things and making my promise. And a lot of people give in to that. I’ve known since I was 8 that I wasn’t “cool”.
It was staying in Guiding that meant a lot more to me, and although a lot of my friends have never been Guides they all understand what it does. Guiding is a space where girls can be girls. We’re not going to let in boys, like Scouting was forced to. We’re creating a safe space where they don’t have to care about what boys think of them. Yes we can still make face packs and paint our nails if we want to, but in Guiding it is all about being who you want to be.
I became a Young Leader with Brownies when I was 14, and I’m now a qualified Assistant Brownie Leader. As well as playing a major part in getting me my first job (I think), being a Brownie Leader is a really important part of my life.
You know kids, I’m sure. They are irritating. They are loud. Oh so loud… They put their hands up not to ask a question, but to tell you a story about how “one time I did…”. But don’t let that fool you. Our girls are confident, from generally well off backgrounds. As well as Brownies they all do swimming, gymnastics, dancing, running, cello lessons. They look like they have it all.
But we get to know these girls. They are insecure, they don’t think they can lead their friends, they don’t want to step forward alone, they don’t want their mums to leave them.
That’s why we do it. They are occasionally horrendous, they can give you a headache, but we’re passing back on to them an environment which is fun, and safe. Yes we teach them how to address an envelope and bake a cake. We went on pack holiday and even taught them how to clean a toilet! Shock horror! (“Who does it at home?” “It… I… It just gets done?”).
But we give these children an opportunity to be a girl. To go abroad on your own, to build a shelter, to create or design something new. To get muddy or to prettify yourself.
And more important than that, we teach them to be good leaders, to have self-confidence and self-respect. We teach them how to be a good sixer, how to delegate and be fair, how to resolve their conflicts. We let them tell each other what makes them special, and you watch some who seem so quiet come into their own.
I will defend Guiding because I believe it is wonderful. I am still immensely proud to be a part of it, and to be a part of my community. Watching them grow up into Guides is its own reward. Also, leader’s ‘planning meetings’ in the pub and ‘recce weekends’ to the campsites make it worthwhile in itself
Guiding has made me who I am. Not cool, not prettier or more successful. But a woman who can be who she is. Who can build a campfire and tie a pretty decent knot and do a risk assessment on playing ladders. Who has helped girls understand that when you promise it means something, who has given them their first night away from home and comforted them when they’re scared, who has watched as a girl flourishes and grows in confidence.
And who will have a Brownie honour guard at her wedding.
It’s a wonderful thing to do with your time or encourage your daughters to do. I just wanted everyone to know we’re still here, sill relevant, through hundreds and thousands of girls, young women and women all over the world.