By Klysha Best
“Friendship, fun, adventure, while making your mark on the world.”
That’s what girl guiding offers to every girl and young woman and it doesn’t end there.
Girl guiding encourages our young girls and women to become responsible leaders of tomorrow while also instilling moral and spiritual guidance.
In a Trinidad and Tobago landscape where girls have been recently seen embroiled in fights and lewdness, girl guiding may just be what some of our young girls need.
But what is the Girl Guides Association all about and why should any parent even consider it for their daughters?
Secretary of the Girl Guides Association of Trinidad and Tobago and Captain of the 28th Port of Spain Brownie and Junior Guides, Angela Nesbitt, said “Learning new things, sharing what you learn and helping others is the identity of every girl guide and leader.”
She said, “The Girl Guides Association of Trinidad and Tobago is a volunteer nonprofit organization for girls and young women and is one of 152 member organisations that form the world association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, our parent body.”
Guiding in Trinidad and Tobago started on the 8th of June, in the year 1914, under the leadership of Mrs Havelock, with the first unit at the St Ann’s Church Hall, which was and still is
located at the corner of Oxford and Charlotte Street, Port of Spain.
Guiding then spread to San Fernando, Tobago and San Juan in 1920, with the Brownie Guides being introduced in 1916 and the Guides section was divided into Junior Guides and Senior Guides in 1982.
Ms Nesbitt said “Our first headquarters and camp site, which the Girl Guides occupied for 44 years, from 1932 to 1977, was located at what is now the Belmont Secondary School.
The association moved to two other properties, before finding its current home at No. 8 Rust Street, St Clair.”
“Our mission is to enable girls and young women to develop their fullest potential as responsible citizens of the world.
We facilitate this by providing programs that are educational and enjoyable and contribute to the all-round development of the girls, forming a young woman who is self-reliant, self-disciplined, resourceful, and prepared to give service to the country and community at national and international levels.”
A girl becomes a member when she makes the three-fold promise and wears the uniform for the first time.
This can be done at any stage – Brownie Guides, ages 6 to 9; Junior Guides, ages 9 to 12; Senior Guides, ages 12 to 15; and Ranger Guides, ages 15 to 21.
Ms Nesbitt said “The promise is a commitment to do my best, to do my duty to God, country and other people and to keep the guide law. The guide law expresses the moral and spiritual values that every member strives to live by and is carried out in an age-appropriate way.”
“Our mission is achieved through the Girl Guides/Girl Scouts education method, which is learning in small groups, commonly called the patrol system. Brownies form Sixes, Junior Guides
form Patrols, Senior and Ranger Guides form Committees and Sub-Committees. They elect a leader, who chooses her second leader, while other members in the Patrol are also assigned responsibilities.”
She said in this way, the unit is governed through peer leadership, decision making is done by the girls with the guidance of the adult leader.
The guide program is based on what the founder refers to as the Four Signposts – character and intelligence, health and physical development, creative ability and lastly, service.”
Activities are adapted to reflect how children and young people in the group behave, feel and think.
According to Ms Nesbitt, “Girls learn through games, discovery, fun and ownership for the success of the activities selected.”
“Much of the guide program relies on forming relationships with others at home, school, communities locally, regionally and internationally,” she added.
Girls are given opportunities to develop skills in communication, collaboration, planning and creativity.
Nesbitt pointed out that the association values interaction with family members, school staff, community leaders and other like-minded groups.
Girls are encouraged to get involved in issues they care about and to be advocates for change. They are encouraged to give their time, talents and treasure to those in need. They are part of global efforts to reduce poverty, raise awareness of the impact of climate change in their lives and to make healthy life choices.
They are global citizens and the world association has created several programs for girls of all ages.
Ms Nesbitt said “One size does not fit all in girl guiding. Our girls have varying interests and abilities and the program is flexible to accommodate needs.”
“Though they have a common program, the girls interest is catered for with interest badges, projects and international opportunities. “
The girls make their guiding journey through stages and are rewarded for their efforts along the way.
Ms Nesbitt explained that some of the lifelong benefits of signing up for the Girl Guides include first and foremost, becoming a member of a sisterhood with over 10 million girls and young women across 152 countries.
She said, “As a guide, the girl has the opportunity to learn new skills and share their international experiences through regional and international travel. The opportunity to learn and develop leadership, advocacy and community action skills, to camp and learn survival skills are just some of the life long benefits.”
Schools have traditionally been the base for the Girl Guides units and unit leaders have been teachers interested in girl guiding or who have been guides themselves. The guiding recruits members and after a period of training the girls are enrolled and then follow the program for that level. The guide unit is a valuable addition to the school.
Generally, principals and staff have been very cooperative.
However, Ms Nesbitt revealed that within recent times, volunteers have been lacking, resulting in the closure of some units.
“We have approximately 1,500 members now, girls and young women. This is an estimate, as prior to 2020, the association had a membership of nearly 3,000. But with the trials members have undergone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our leaders have stepped back and girls have moved on,” said Ms Nesbitt.
She noted that in previous years, guiding had with full capacity units, districts and divisions and with packs and companies having waiting lists for girls to join.
This has dwindled tremendously.
According to Ms Nesbitt “this is not due to the lack of the girls, but a lack of the adult leaders to take charge of a pack or a company.”
“This I believe is due in part to the lack of volunteerism as an everyday practice. Long ago, volunteering your time without expecting financial or in-kind compensation was part of our culture.”
“Today’s volunteer is event-oriented, participating in a couple of activities that require hours, one day or on the rare occasion one weekend. The volunteer nowadays also expects in-kind gifts, be it a bag, T-shirt, etc. Our association is heavily dependent on teachers as volunteers, but teachers now are focused on different goals and so we do not have the numbers. Therefore, as an association, we need to find a new pool to augment our adult leaders and so be able to have units in schools throughout Trinidad and Tobago in greater number and not one or three isolated schools in a district.”
Ms Nesbitt assured that the world is an oyster for these young girls.
She said, “With over 10 million girls and 152 member countries, the girls have the opportunity to travel to any continent of our world.”
Travel opportunities include camps, training, seminars, conferences, and attendance at United Nations committees and meetings just to name a few, as well, with guided houses in Mexico, Switzerland, India, England and Africa, the older guides have the opportunity to live and work for set times at these houses, where they have life changing experiences and new skills and build their own skills.
Ms Nesbitt said, “Girl guiding offers a space for every girl and leader to be themselves, where making mistakes while you learn is OK. You can laugh at yourself and make beautiful memories.”
She added, “It’s a great place to belong, join in the fun and become a volunteer today. Our girls need us.”