I joined the Girl Guide movement at the ripe age of 7 years old. At that age, I thought it was all about meeting new friends and playing lots of games. Little did I know, it was actually about being in a safe situation where my mind was allowed to develop freely.
I think we all agree that our childhood experiences help shape the adults we become. In general, they say that the more positive experiences you have in your youth, the better you’re able to ‘function’ as an adult. So let me tell you about some of the events that have impacted me and moulded me into the sort of person that enjoys giving back to her community!
1. Teamwork. I was never one to enjoy team sports but at Guides I worked in a Patrol. Patrols are small groups of Guides, with its own elected leader, who work together to achieve a common goal. The goal could be to earn an interest badge or Achievement Award, to cook a meal in a camp oven, to make a new Guide feel welcomed, or even to raise money for the local dog shelter. Being a Guide gave me the opportunity to learn and develop my teamwork skills so I understand that everyone brings something unique to the group and that you can achieve more if you work together.
2. Leadership. Girl Guides is an organisation with a major focus on developing leadership skills in their members. As a young Guide, I admired my Patrol Leaders and Guide Leaders. They were wonderful role models for all the girls, demonstrating how to involve all the participants in a group decision and teaching us how to listen to each other.
3. Self-confidence. Girl Guides is a safe environment, free of stereotypes and judgement. This freedom allowed me to try new activities whilst surrounded by supportive friends. I now have the courage to speak up and provide input to group conversations because I’m able to trust my own judgement, having found confidence in myself and my abilities at Girl Guides.
4. Self-respect. In a judgement-free environment, I’ve been allowed to develop my own set of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. In a world full of criticism, through Guides I have learned that it’s OK to be (and to like) the person you are. I know who I am and I am happy. I am free to be me.
5. Resilience. Whenever it rains I hear my Guide Leader’s voice in my head, “It’s not rain, it’s just light condensation!”. She was always positive, always confident. It didn’t matter if there was a sky full of black clouds and rain coming down by the bucket-load, she taught us that attitude is important. Things don’t always go in the direction we hope they will but we learn from it and keep moving. Because of her I know that it’s OK to fail, as long as I try. (On a related note, exposure to new experiences has been shown to have long term benefits for our members, resulting in better mental health at age 50 compared to those who were not part of Guides or Scouts. How good is that?!)
6. How to be a friend. Everyone is different, so it’s important to learn how to interact with others. Being a friend is a great way to start developing these skills that will be used every day in later life. Being a friend starts with understanding that people ‘work’ in different ways and there’s no better way to experience this than in an organisation that embraces diversity. Regardless of background (race, religion, economic, culture, family) all girls are welcomed into Guides.
7. Organisation and time management. As a Patrol Leader, being responsible for a group of my peers was eye-opening. Tasks were shared out amongst the group, but what if one Guide couldn’t complete her task because she was unwell? Looking ahead and making a Plan B was something I soon learned and now use every day of my adult life.
8. Independence. Every year I attended a weekend away with the Guides. I would receive a kit list and I was expected to pack the contents into a bag, entirely by myself rather than have my mum pack it for me. I was required to help set up the camp site, putting up a row of large, canvas, ridge tents. I needed to work with my Patrol to light fires in order to cook our dinner… and make sure we all received enough edible food! We were away from our parents and we loved every minute of it. But it was about more than just fun, it was about learning to be independent. Learning to keep searching for that missing sock instead of calling for Mum to find it, and remembering to brush our teeth when we weren’t following our usual daily routine!
9. Goal setting. Whether I was working alone, with my best friend or with my Patrol, working towards badges was a great opportunity to practise my goal setting skills. In those days, every badge came with a set syllabus and particular number of challenges that needed to be completed. Working through the list of challenge tasks would encourage me to think, “Which of these do I consider to be a challenge?” Earning badges was not about choosing only the easiest tasks, but about choosing the ones that would inspire me and make me work a little bit harder because at the end I was rewarded for my efforts. A feeling which is priceless at any age.
10. Responsibility. Working in a Patrol (team) showed me the importance of responsibility. I was part of a team and if I didn’t do my part, the team could fail. I didn’t want that failure on my shoulders so I learned to complete any tasks I was assigned and meet any deadlines I was given. Knowing my responsibilities has led to a work ethic that I’m very proud of!
11. Happiness. (Need convincing that happiness is a skill?) My time at Guides has taught me that personal happiness can be found through making others happy. By providing a service to other people, or groups of people in your community, you become happier too. We would raise money for local charities, volunteer at school fairs and at Christmas we would sing carols at the retirement homes. As well as formal ‘service’, we also regularly made each other happy simply by being a good friend!
If you are familiar with the Guide Promise and Law, you may have been able to spot many of our values in this list. For those readers who don’t know, you could speak with many Guides and you would find that this is not a unique learning experience. In fact, it’s a philosophy we live by! Each Guide publicly makes a promise to herself and lives by our 7 Guide laws:
I promise to do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
To serve my community and Australia,
And live by the Guide Law.
As a Guide I will strive to:
- Respect myself and others
- Be considerate, honest and trustworthy
- Be friendly to others
- Make choices for a better world
- Use my time and abilities wisely
- Be thoughtful and optimistic
- Live with courage and strength
So there it is, a list of 11 skills I learned as a young Girl Guide! As an adult who is still involved in Guides, I continue to develop these skills and so many others. Guides challenges me every day to be the best version of myself and I am proud to tell people that I am a Girl Guide. Because without Guides, I certainly would not be the person I am today.
I am so grateful for the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) for giving me and so many others, the opportunity to be a confident, self-respecting, responsible member of my community.