A Thinking day to think about refugees…

One of our Senior Section has been involved in a campaign with some young people from her high school to ask Scotland to do more to welcome refugees seeking sanctuary here in the UK.  While planning for the term, they asked if we could learn more, so I told them about my friend Katherine who had not long started working for a small charity called the Refugee Survival Trust. One of the things that Katherine and the volunteers at RST do is go into schools and groups to help dispel myths and help educate people about what the reality is like for refugees and asylum seekers.

Thinking Day seemed like a good day to learn about such things, so we invited Katherine to come through for that week. And then the Guide unit that meet at the same time as us said they had no current plans for Thinking Day so we decided to join up with them.

The girls did a quiz, saw photos of the Calais Jungle and learned how to say welcome in three different languages including Arabic. We ended with having cake for Baden-Powell’s birthday, and our candle ceremony which Katherine joined in with. Now she has a guiding light too! 😉

If you are a unit based in Central Scotland, particularly if you’re in the Glasgow area where most of the RST volunteers are based, I totally recommend getting in touch with them and inviting them to come talk to your unit. Maybe your unit could even do some fundraising for them?

Thank you so much Katherine for making the time and effort to come through to spend the evening with us. We really appreciated it!

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To all my Brownies, Guides & Rangers past & present…

It’s safe to say that there are days as a volunteer leader I want to quit. Days where I wonder why I bother because no one is listening or feeling unappreciated or overwhelmed or just plain exhausted.

The downside of the last 48 hours is seeing so many of you upset at not being heard by Girlguiding UK, feeling despondent that you want to be part of a group but aren’t for one reason or another…or soon won’t be because you’ll be over 18. The upside has been that some of you who have ‘graduated’ from units I’ve worked with have been back in touch, and I’ve seen how much you care not just for yourselves but the generations of Guides and Rangers coming up behind you.

I often see leaders complaining about how unappreciated they feel. I’m sure there are days when I’ve got grumpy when you’ve forgotten your stuff again, or been late, or not told me that you weren’t going to show up…. but I also know that so many other days when you when you’ve put in the extra effort to make a cake for one of your guiding sisters or flung yourselves into an activity or come along even when you’ve been feeling rubbish. There are times when you’ve taken the time to encourage me as a leader and told me you’ve appreciated the support I’ve attempted to give you over the years and told me Thank You.

And so I’ll repeat what I said to one of you yesterday when you said you weren’t sure if you’d ever thanked me.

You are more than welcome. You all make it so worth it, and it’s because of how lovely you all are, and how much you’ve all put into it that makes me keep going!

Wherever you go in life, I hope you’ll take good memories with you, remember the values you’ve developed and carry on standing up for them. And as I’m probably always saying #onceaguidealwaysaguide. We will light candles tonight to mark our friendship as part of the world guiding family, but even after they are blown out you’ll all take that Guiding light out into this crazy world we live in for many years to come.

Angry in Edinburgh…

An update: I did write to Girlguiding UK, and I believe some of my members may have done as well. I most certainly encouraged them to tell Girlguiding how they felt, and not just me. A lot of leaders did the same, after facing and dealing with the upset reaction their unit members had about what has gone on. I believe everyone has had the same e-mail or letter back from Girlguiding UK saying that they are taking more time to consider the decisions – particularly in regards to the name change. This is hopefully good news and has given some comfort to the girls who to be honest are now increasingly consumed with studying (or worrying that they aren’t studying enough) for their exams. I’m glad Girlguiding have made the decision, and hope this means they’ll spend more time really listening to the existing members of Senior Section about what they want it to be like in the future.

Happy Thinking Day Eve.

Last night I was getting stuff together for our Guides’ Thinking Day celebration, a party for one of our ‘graduated’ Guides (now a member of my Ranger style group) who had achieved her Baden-Powell at Christmas time, and the enrolment of 5 new Guides.

Then my phone blew up as one of the Rangers posted “Did anyone get a email about voting on the new name for Senior Section”. Cue rage from

1. The Girls that HAD NOT received the e-mail.

2. Me, the leader who HAD NOT received any message from Girlguiding UK  that this survey was being done, or that an invitation for members to consult to suggest names had occurred, or that such an e-mail would be going out to members of my group so I could support them and encourage them to have their say.

3. All the girls when they found out what the choices were, and that there was no option to say “we hate them all” (which they seem to do).

I tried my best to message the girls (some of which were coming down to help with the Baden Powell party) and encourage them to speak their mind. But I was so angry that a night that should have been focused on some of the most important milestones and events for those in the middle of their Guiding journey had been marred by some poorly chosen decisions made by somebody at HQ. This is NOT Girls in the lead. This is NOT empowering young women. And it is very disrespectful to the 100s of volunteers who support Senior Section ranger style groups like myself. We are all exhausted. It’s the hardest section to run by far (ok, I’ve never done Rainbows, but it’s most certainly tougher than Brownies or Guides). I know I’m not the only leader who wants to tell Girlguiding they resign from volunteering.

There was also a survey put out during half term about uniform (again, none of my unit want the uniform to change, and they certainly don’t want Guides deciding what it should be) and it’s already closed down before I even got a chance to inform our girls about it.

Needless to say, I’m going to be writing some emails to Girlguiding HQ today. The survey has clearly not been designed by someone from a Community Learning and Development background. And who ever decided half term and the week of World Thinking Day was a good idea to put it out there clearly hasn’t spent a lot of time doing grassroots work with Girlguiding.

How do I explain to the girls that this is not OK? How do I encourage them not to just get up and leave Guiding for the Scouts?

Meanwhile here is the survey. Maybe this one will stay up for more than 48 hours.

Pondering this,

An exhausted, disheartened and disappointed Ranger leader.

The Joy Filled Jars

We actually missed the first proper week back this year, because I had to postpone our meeting due to me being ill with my silly tooth infection and antibiotics. The initial idea was to do something looking at the Promise because we gained two new members just before Christmas and they intimated to me that they’d like to make the promise. News that the girls wouldn’t make our first meeting made me rethink the plans. It was one of those moments I think all leaders have had where we just think “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THEM TONIGHT?!”

A conversation with our youngest Guides who were looking at the Guide Promise, plus some blogs from a woman I hugely admire got me thinking. My Mum said she was headed to take a friend to Ikea, and so I requested she buy 10 glass jars. I knew we had some glass paint from a project a member did years ago in our cupboard somewhere…

One of our youngest Guides told me that she thought a great way of serving our communities was smiling at people and putting happiness into the world and that really got me thinking. Miss Val* has talked a lot about choosing to  be grateful for the privileges we have. Over New Year I’d been thinking about the amount I get grumpy about what I don’t have rather than finding joy in the nice things that happen. And so I gave each of the girls a jar (and I bought one for myself) and told them that these were for them to use how they wished – my idea is to put notes of all the good things that happen in. However, they could choose to use it differently – either to hold notes of things they are thankful for, good things that happen, good ideas for positivity….

The girls decorated them, and I loved watching their creativity in doing so! They’ve said they’d like to maybe bring them in later in the year so we can share all the positivity, joy and gratitude stories they contain. I’m all for that!

*For those not in the know, Valorie Kondos-Field (known as Miss Val) is the legendary coach of the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics Team. The UCLA team are famous for their creative routines on beam and floor especially – one went viral in 2016, and even my Senior Section girls with no interest in gymnastics saw it on social media. 🙂

Old School Guiding Night

While we were doing our First Aid badge, we had one week where about half of our Guide unit who are all from the same year group in the same school were off to P7 camp. In the end Stefan suggested we take a week off from the badge so they didn’t miss out, and we were grateful! With a much smaller group, we decided to have a night teaching some ‘Old School’ Guiding skills – learning morse code and semaphore!

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Our unit helper helping one of our Guides practise morse code with a torch. We had the girls flash the light against the wall.

I thankfully still have my Guide Handbook from the 90s, which was full of great information. It helped me pack for my backpacking trips to Morocco, Western Europe (and Australia…but by then I didn’t need to refer to it – packing a rucksack is second nature now). It taught me how to do my bedding roll when I’d forgotten. It gave me recipes. It gave me exercises that helped with periods. It helped me learn some sign language. It is covered in scribbles from doing my Trefoils (now replaced with the annual challenge badges), my emblems, my Baden-Powell, my Pre-Promise challenges and more. I was able to photocopy the pages which show morse code and semaphore – skills that my Mum and our unit helper learned as Guides. I learned morse code, but not semaphore as a Guide.

I brought along torches, and other leaders brought along garden stick things (what are those things called that hold up plants?!) which the girls used to make their own semaphore flags with paper, sticky tape and felt pens.

After some practice, the girls were split into two teams each supervised by one of our young leaders and came up with a message which they relayed to the other team via semaphore. Then the teams went outside (in the dark!) to flash the message back using morse code back to them to see if they got it right.

The girls really got into it, and did struggle but kept persevering and had a lot of giggles doing it.

Helpful links:

Morse Code

Semaphore

Rangers learn some life skills

You may remember at the start of the year, I asked the lovely ladies of our Senior Section what they would like to learn before they leave their parents home. There were a few skills that they wanted to learn – and one of them was laundry.

There is no washing machine where we meet, so we had to get a little creative…

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And so I brought down a pile of mixed (clean) laundry belonging to members of my family. And yes people, it included some (old) bras. I queried the appropriateness of that, but in the end I figured that the majority of women wear them, and it’s not always obvious how to care for them. Especially if they are underwired or have lace. So yes…we did discuss handwashing and ‘delicates’. Not all the girls arrived at the start of the meeting on time (a current ‘challenge’ this year for me as a leader) otherwise I would have split the girls into teams and had them sort out the laundry into loads, what setting they would put for the washing machine, how much laundry detergent etc.  I also found this helpful print out on Love Your Clothes website about clothing care labels and what each of the symbols mean which all the girls asked if they could keep a copy of.

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Although most of the girls can bake and some can cook, many of the girls confessed to not really knowing or ever having done some basic things they felt all ‘grown ups’ should know. These were boiling potatoes and boiling eggs. So…we got some new potatoes, some saucepans (again our meeting place’s kitchen is not very well equipped for cooking), some eggs and I brought down my old Student Cookbook (which is where I finally learned at the age of 29 how to make scrambled eggs which don’t look like yellowy grey bits of rubber – no one had explained that I needed to cook them on a super low heat!). And I just sat back and made sure no one did anything life threatening.

They’ve also requested to have a night at someone’s house to cook a full proper meal that isn’t pasta. Not going to lie, I’m a terrible cook (I’d like to blame it on the anti social hours of 16 years working in youth work, retail and community education where I usually don’t have time to spend an hour cooking) so I may need to call in some friendly reinforcements to share their skills so I don’t pass on my culinary ineptitude to the girls!

 

Promise Activities

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that we had a bunch of new Guides still to make their promise. I’m a strong believer that before making the promise the girls should spend time focusing on what the Promise means and looking at the Guide laws before they decide whether or not they want to make their promise.

I’ve been sort of in charge of Pre-Promise activities for a while now at Guides, and have a few standard things that we do with the Girls to help them understand Girlguiding as an organisation, a little bit of history, and to get them thinking about the Promise and Law – how can they individually and collectively live it out in their daily lives if they choose to make it. I’m now encouraging our Young Leaders to find and create new ideas for things we can do to help our Guides consider what the Promise is about, and what is means to live by it! Many of these activities I have got from old issues of Guiding magazine, or from the Girlguiding UK Member’s Area before it changed up with the new website.

Promise Keepers – (from old edition of Guiding Magazine)

Each Guide takes a piece of paper, pen and envelope. We discuss in a group what keeping a promise means to them – is it something that they make and then forget about, or something you take seriously and make sure you keep it? On the piece of paper they write a promise to another person that they will keep that week. They can decorate the paper if they like. The girls fold up the paper with their promise written on and put it in the envelope, but do not seal it (just in case they need to check what promise they made). The following week you ask the Guides to reveal their promises and talk about whether they have kept it.

*It is also worth discussing the circumstances when you shouldn’t make/keep a promise*

The Guide Law and You

This is a really simple exercise where I get the Guides to think of two examples of how they can keep each of the 6 parts of the Guide law in their daily lives. Occasionally if they take a whole hour on an activity that apparently should take 20 minutes, I’ll get them to take this home and then we share and discuss our answers the following week.

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Sometimes I will also give them cut out strips of the Guide laws, and ask them to prioritise them in order of importance. We then discuss in a group what order of priority Guide has chosen and why she thinks that one is more/less important than the others.

Love our community

The idea behind this is to look at the section of the promise which says we will “Serve the Queen and our community” and “help other people”. While the Guides are playing a wide game at the beginning of our meeting, the leaders not overseeing the game hide post it notes around the hall that spell out a message like “Love Edinburgh” or “Make our city better” – something that is a message about caring about where we live. The girls find all the letters, and then work out what the message is. Then I get them individually or in pairs or groups to come up with ideas on how they can do that making an acrostic with the message. So it ends up being something like*

L – Litter picking

O – Organise a fundraising event

V – Visit old people

E – (Be) Eco Friendly

O – Operate a no put-down zone

U – Upcycle our old clothes

R – Recycle and reduce our waste

C – Cooking for people

I – Include others

T – Teach skills we know to others

Y – You before I

*most of these are real examples of ideas the Guides came up with! Others include: shop Fairtrade, be Positive, Smile at people, be Nice to new people, Look after new Guides, Encourage others to be their best, Cheer on our fellow Guides…I’m sure there’s loads more your Guides and Senior Section could come up with!

Peace Envoy (from Guide Promise Activities)

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In this exercise, the Guides are told they are politicians in leadership of the world. They have to come up with a 5 point manifesto of rules they’d like to bring in to help create and sustain world peace. Girlguiding UK will tell you this takes 15 minutes. What you may have to do is spend 10 minutes explaining what a politician is, and how they become the ones who represent us in the world making laws and policies that affect so many people. And then another 10 minutes of heads in hands, chewing the ends of pencils thinking and saying “this is hard”. You will refrain from making any suggestions because you want their ideas to be well…their own ideas. Before you go away, and they’ve come up with something like this 15 minutes later…

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(As a follow up, you might suggest the girls send their manifestos to their MP/MSPs)

Your Place in Guiding

I found this great template from Activity Village. Many of our Guides will not understand the hierarchy of the organisation – districts, divisions, counties etc. This just helps them understand it, and for them to know what unit they are in. I simply get them to fill in each circle, they can write it, draw pictures in each circle. They cut out the circles and we usually staple them together.

Breaking Barriers (also from Guide Promise Activities)

Give each girl a cube template  and some colouring pencils. They can  write negative words or stereotypes on their template – for example, ‘young people don’t make good leaders’ or ‘girls aren’t good at sport’.Each girl can then fold her template into a cube shape, using sticky tape or glue to secure it.  The girls should then build a wall with their cubes, to reflect the barriers that negative stereotypes can create around us.When the wall is built, the Guides can tear it down however they like! Talk with the Guides about how it felt to see their wall of negativity and how it felt to tear it down.

Beliefs and Values

This is actually an activity I used to use when running workshops in PSE and RMPS classes in some of my previous youth work jobs. I put a sign that says AGREE on one side of the room, and a sign that says DISAGREE on the other. I will then read out statements and the girls can choose to stand wherever they like between the two signs – they might stand right next to it, or somewhere in the middle depending on how much they do or do not agree with the statement I have read out. It can be as serious as “No one should be allowed to own a gun“, “There is a God“, “It is okay to steal if the person you’re stealing from is rich” to something more lighthearted like “Only Leaders should be allowed to eat chocolate at meetings” or “There should be an International Day of Dressing Up Like A Minion“. I then will ask a few girls who have stood in different places to explain their reasoning. It is important to make sure the Guides don’t feel judged for their opinions, and the idea is to get people listening and thinking about why they believe what they do. I will also tactfully stand closer to a girl if she seems to be the only one choosing to put herself in that spot just to show encouragement that it’s okay to have a different opinion on something.

 

These are obviously just a flavour of what you can do, and we’ve done many other activities over the years to look at individual beliefs, serving our community, being honest and trustworthy. If you have any activities to share that you do with your Guides, please do share !