It was late one evening in early September when I got the call from International Commissioner Lorna Finnegan offering me a place in The Academy. To begin with, I didn’t know what the Academy was. So when Lorna explained it was a week-long conference organised by WAGGGS and WOSM in Larnaca, Cyprus, I was so excited because, I’ll be honest, all I really heard was Lorna saying that it involved a week in Cyrus. After that she could have been telling me I would be counting grains of sand on the beach and it really didn’t matter – I was going to Cyprus for a week!
Most people wouldn’t know this but I have had two serious spinal surgeries in the past 18 months, which have left me with serious chronic pain, so on 2
Going on this trip was a big deal for me on a personal level, as well as a Guiding experience, as I felt the pain consuming me at times over the past few months. This would give me a chance to have something positive to aim and focus on. So, once my consultant cleared me for travel, it became very real, very quickly. I would be the only Irish representative going, which meant I would be travelling alone – that in itself was very daunting, but for me, who has only ever eaten in a restaurant alone once in her life, it was going to pose many challenges for me. But isn’t that what being a Girl
So, as time drew nearer, I liaised with Laura in National Office with regards my travel and Lorna briefed me on what I would need to do over there. I also spoke with others who had been to the Academy and it was great to hear first-hand exactly what to expect.
When the day actually arrived, I’ll be honest I was so scared – it was my first time in my life travelling outside Ireland alone – the plan was to fly from Dublin to Gatwick, then onto Cyprus. It was going to be a long day and it was very lonely but a Guide has courage and is cheerful so I put on my smile. Apart from an hour's delay in Dublin due to fog, the day went to plan and, when I arrived in Cyprus, I was greeted by two people in yellow neckerchiefs – the first Guiding/Scouting people I met on the entire journey - and it was great to finally meet someone in the Guiding family and not to feel so alone anymore.
Once I arrived at the hotel everyone was wearing neckerchiefs and it was an explosion of colour. We were all part of the same family and it was wonderful. Everyone was so friendly and would say 'Hello' and ask where you were from.
Our sessions started the next day and they involved a three-hour session in the morning and another three-hour session in the afternoon. The sun started to set around 4pm so, after the first day, it became very clear I wouldn’t be seeing much sun and certainly wouldn’t be returning with a tan, that’s for sure.
The night-time activities were great fun! We had a cultural night where each country promoted their own culture and brought something from their own country to share with the group. On another evening we saw a Cypriot wedding and had some dancing on the beach. We saw a band whose instruments were all made from recycled materials and I even heard a tune played from a carrot!
All good things must come to an end and my week in Cyprus went very quickly once I got into the routine of the daily sessions. I learned a lot about myself during the week. I discovered that I am strong and courageous. I learned that everything we strive to empower into our girls every week at our meetings, we are also doing that for ourselves as Leaders.
The journey we talk about is not just for the girl – it is for the Leader too. We empower women.