Friday, 27 March 2015

TWIGG Final session: Free Being Me

The final session of TWIGG focussed on the Free Being Me programme, which IGG is currently rolling out across the country with the Catholic Guides of Ireland (CGI). We were delighted that Cecilia Browne and Yvonne Browne of CGI were able to join us for this session as well as Mary Cunningham of the National Youth Council of Ireland and Orla O’Connor and Sara Clarkin of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

Lorna Finnegan, IGG’s International Commissioner, introduced the session by saying it was hoped that as many Brownie and Guide units as possible would sign up to the programme. She said there was an urgent need for the programme across the globe, given that a survey found that only 11% of girls think they are beautiful and six out of ten girls opt out of daily activities because they are so concerned about the way they look. “We have to offer hope that we will make a difference, that we will make a change,” Lorna said.

Marg McInerney, Leader of Carrigdhoun Guides and a member of the Free Being Me committee, said that over 400 Leaders had been trained in delivering the programme and she encouraged Leaders to get in touch when they had delivered the programme to their Units, including completing the Take Action project.

Emer Foley, a plus-size model and basketball coach, who once played basketball for Ireland, talked about how she wished there had been a programme like Free Being Me when she was in the Brownies and Guides in Bray, Co Wicklow. She talked about her struggle to accept her body image when she was growing up and says that now, at age 29, she can honestly say that she finally feels comfortable with “being me”. She says that she has learned to rise above criticisms and put downs, including rejections from some modelling agencies that said she didn’t have “the right look”. She said she liked the way Free Being Me encouraged girls to appreciate their bodies for their natural abilities. “Be confident, be happy, don’t stress, love yourself,” she said. “I’m very proud to be a part of this programme. You are special people and I am very proud to be in a room filled with such great people.”

Helen O’Reilly, Leader of Stillorgan Brownies and Guides and a member of the Free Being Me committee, took to the stage with two of her girls who have completed the programme and asked them about their experience.

Rachel Caird (age 11) said she really liked Free Being Me because it helped girls to realise that they are perfect the way they are and that “everyone is special in their own way”. She said she felt more confident after doing the programme because it made her feel better about the way she is. “I would recommend the programme to other Leaders because all the girls in their Units will learn that looks aren’t the most important thing and that it’s more important the way you treat people and the way you act,” she said.

Sara Caird (age 10), said her favourite Free Being Me activity had been trying to spot the air-brushing in pictures of models. “After the five sessions, I felt better about myself and prouder of the way I am,” she said. “After doing Free Being Me, I judge people by their actions rather than their looks.”

Chief Commissioner Helen Concannon concluded the session, saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if IGG and CGI were the starting point for seeing change in the way a whole generation of girls feel about themselves?”

~ Fiona Murdoch, Communications Officer, Irish Girl Guides

TWIGG Day 2: Wonderfully informative, fun and friendly!

After a wonderful party atmosphere last night it was a pleasant surprise to see the turnout to Guides Own and Flag Ceremony. We weren’t disappointed by the inspirational reading reminding us to try our best but to also have time to dream. The flag was raised by our VIP visitor Nicola Grinstead, Chair of the board of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and we all sang the Girl Guide Creed to the tune of Danny Boy.

Yesterday we had enjoyed hearing about the new ‘Journey Programme’ for the girls during Branch Day, today was the official National Conference and it was more about supporting the Leaders, hearing about the organisation and where we fit in.

So to begin we were into the main room to hear from our first speaker Nicola Grinstead. It was interesting to hear her journey into the prestigious position and you could hear the passion in her voice when she described her ambition to advocate to make a difference for people all around the Wworld. Advocacy helps to shape, drive and influence change. There are currently 146 countries in WAGGGS and by 2020 there will be at least 154 countries and it is hoped membership will rise to 12 million. WAGGGS are looking at ways to increase membership and one way is by helping more volunteers to get involved by trying to facilitate childcare support.

The WAGGGS programme Free Being Me is now being delivered in 70 countries and has been so popular it has been translated into 13 different languages. By 2016 it is expected that over 3.5 million girls will have learnt from the programme. Another WAGGGS programme, Voices Against Violence, looks at how girls can protect themselves and stand up against violence and this will be scaled up to be delivered to over 800,000 girls across the world in the next two years.

Nicola thanked IGG for all their hard work, not only how IGG has developed over the past few years, but for our overseas support through participation in key advocacy and influencing events, through participation in global programmes and by working with partners on projects around the world. She said IGG’s impact was significant.

IGG is very progressive in its use of social media, information and communication structures and now has the new OGM Online Guide Manager system. It was acknowledged that many of these changes were initiated during the time that Emer O’Sullivan was in office. It is fantastic to see that many of the changes have been very successful and are coming to fruition. It is an exciting time to be involved in Irish Girl Guides!

Helen Concannon, Chief Commissioner, understands that our daily lives are very busy and that many adult members find they have to step back from being Leaders of Units from time to time, but wish to continue in Guiding. Trefoil Guild is an option and is from age 18. There is also talk of setting up specialist guilds – student guilds for members in college or university, hill-walking guilds and book-reading guilds. So there you are: Guiding really is for life and not for one and a half hours per week!

We headed off to smaller rooms and some of the Leaders enjoyed hearing about Headstrong and Jigsaw and where young people can receive help with their mental health. We heard that some simple supports young people need is to have a sense of belonging and to be accepted for who they are: I think this could be a two-way referral system, with their young people being encouraged to join the Girl Guides!

With the upcoming referendum on 22nd May, we took part in an exercise to explore politically correct terms for sexual orientation and disabilities. These terms are often uncomfortable but it is useful to have some guidance. Members of voting age should be encouraged to use their vote with the decision for how they wish to vote being left to them to decide.

Governance Code and Good were discussed. Following the recent audit, the travel expense forms have been adapted and there is an emphasis on obtaining receipts or invoices at all times. We were reminded that when fundraising, it must be clear what you are raising the money for and to obtain a permit from An Garda Siochana. With the Youth Club Grants through the ETBs, groups need to sign up to the NQSF National Quality Standards framework: templates are available on the IGG website.

Irish Girl Guides is certainly a MOVEMENT and could never be described as stagnant. We are always looking for ways to improve and the Strategic Plan for the next 5 years was next on the cards! The next session asked us to explore what we felt should be included and ideas for how we can increase membership, improve the website, improve communication and support volunteers. We were invited to become involved in the Strategic Planning team and also to be the testers for the revamped website before it is re-released in September. It is great to get involved and to be part of these changes, there was no pressure and it was lovely to see people happy to step up and enthusiastically be involved in the future development of IGG.

All units who submitted their census through OGM on time were placed in a draw to win €100: it was won by Broadmeadows Brownies Ashbourne Co. Meath. Also the photograph competition winners were announced with the overall prize going to Linda Condon of Sallins Railway Girl Guides, Co Kildare, for her photo of Guides and Leaders making their way through a gorge on the Isle of Man last summer.

Later in the day Emer Foley, IGG’s great ambassador for Free Being Me, spoke about being a Brownie and Guide and her experience in the model industry as a ‘plus-size model’. She explained ‘I’m me and I’m happy just being me’. Emer is also a basketball coach and more likely to have her hair in a ponytail, no makeup and wearing comfortable sports gear, but she hopes that by her ‘real image’ being used for SimplyBe and other clothes lines, it will inspire others to follow suit. She assured us that her pictures are not airbrushed!

Free Being Me has been a fantastic collaboration between CGI and IGG and a wonderful influence on many of our girls today and into the future.

By now all the Leaders who had taken part in the three workshops had created their own lego min-fig, much to their excitement! The conference ended with an energetic rendition of ‘Reach for the Stars’. It had been a wonderfully informative, fun and friendly weekend; it was great to see the ‘buzz’ still in evidence at the end of the conference. It makes me proud, and even a bit emotional, to be part of such a fantastic organisation that make a difference to so many people and that has the growing in confidence of all its members at its core.

~ Anne Hyland, Navan Guides, Co Meath

TWIGG Day 1: Launch of new & exciting Journey Programme!

I arrived on Friday at lunchtime to the Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport, for our much anticipated national conference, a first for me, as previously I was unable to attend due to work commitments.  The lobby was busy as the hotel had another conference going on, so I sat in the lobby as my room wasn’t available yet.  I was on my own and a little nervous, feeling as though I didn’t belong there: lots of people were milling around, many in suits, some that were obviously travelling either to or from the airport but I felt very  alone. The reason I mention this is that the feeling didn’t last too long: it disappeared as soon as I saw  a lady wearing a uniform, the same uniform that I had packed in my overnight bag: the comfort of seeing a neckerchief was quite overwhelming and, although I didn’t know the lady, I was no longer alone. I had a kindred spirit and, very soon after that, many more ladies arrived and my sense of belonging came with them.  The sense of excitement and anticipation of the conference ahead grew as the evening progressed, I met up with leaders I did know and recognise and my weekend began.

Now, generally speaking, I am not a morning person as any of my friends and, particularly my family, will attest to, but Saturday morning I was up before the alarm and headed to breakfast by 7.00 am: the joy of being able to sit with people I didn’t know but who are involved with Irish Girl Guides is a fabulous experience. The lobby of the hotel this morning, in contrast to the previous day, was startling as it became a sea of blue and purple with neckerchiefs galore, with friendly smiling ladies registering for the day’s events. 

The launch of the new Journey Programme was exciting  and I must say very professional and after the weekend’s events I can’t wait to introduce it to my girls  I could wax on lyrically about each moment but I think I would end up with a novel: it is not every organisation that feels so inclusive and welcoming. I learnt a lot of things about the new programme but mostly I learnt a lot about this organisation of which I am very proud to be a member.  We are an organisation that cares about our girls, our world and each other in a very positive way, without judgement or derision. Where else would you find so many women who give up their time so willingly on (as it turned out weather-wise) a very beautiful weekend to improve and enhance what we do:  #givinggirlsconfidence.

~ Karen Frazer, Athenry, Co Galway

Friday, 13 March 2015

'Guides empowered me!'

As part of International Women's Day 2015, I decided to look at an organisation that promotes the ethics and aims of what International Women’s Day is trying to achieve. WAGGGS, (Worldwide Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), is an organisation of women that do excellent work internationally and one that is close to my heart.

WAGGGS is the largest voluntary organisation worldwide. Started in 1910, there are now over 10 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 146 countries across the world. WAGGGS welcome all girls, regardless of religion, ethnicity and background. It encourages young women to make decisions that will benefit others in a community, national and international setting. WAGGGS helps develop self-esteem, leadership skills, community values, and volunteering opportunities as well as promoting healthy lifestyles.

I joined my local branch of Girl Guides at the age of 12, as it was something both my parents talked about. They were involved in the guides/scouts as participants and leaders when they were younger. Whenever it was spoken about, it was always associated with fond memories and it was something I wanted to try. Little did I know when I joined that it would bring me on trips all over Ireland, as well as abroad, visiting Pax Lodge and Our Chalet, the World Centres. It also gave me some of my best friends still to this day.

Guides empowered me to set a goal of achieving my 'Gold Award', the highest achievement offered within the Irish Girl Guide organisation. It encompassed weeks of volunteering with my local branch of Brownies, helping others, as well as developing my own skills and giving me the opportunity to open my eyes to new hobbies.

From skiing for eight days in Switzerland, to running around muddy forests orienteering, earning badges for various work or volunteering at Christmas with various charities, the Girl Guides teaches life skills and it helped shape me to be the person I've become. It give me appropriate responsibilities at a young age, it taught me the understanding of friendship and support, and to feel the sense of belonging to a wonderful worldwide connection of women. WAGGGS is an organisation that allows for females voices to be heard, and for young women to feel they are important. The WAGGGS ethos and goal is definitely something that should be celebrated as part of International Women’s Day.
~ Anna Henderson, former Kinsale Guide