Thursday, 28 September 2017

Get Active! Human Rights Education among Young People

When I found out I had been chosen to represent IGG at the human rights workshop in Vienna, I was both over the moon and a little apprehensive. I knew that I had human rights but I didn’t exactly know what they were, or how to advocate for them. The thought of travelling abroad once more representing IGG filled me with pride. This would be my first time in Austria, and I couldn’t wait to explore the city, as well as to educate myself about my rights.

Eve and I met for the first time at our briefing with Lorna in National Office. We had lots of homework to prepare, including choosing a picture which best represented human rights in our country. Eve and I clicked immediately and after the briefing we got straight to work, researching different examples of human rights and activism in Ireland.

Arriving at the airport on Sunday morning, we were filled with excitement and nerves. We said a quick goodbye to our parents and, four hours later, we had arrived in Vienna. We stayed in a lovely youth hostel in the 20th district of Vienna. We had barely started our dinner when we were invited to go and explore the city with some participants. The course hadn’t even begun, and we’d made friends from Austria, Armenia, and Hungary. We spent the evening walking beside the Danube, visiting parks, shops and some monuments.

The course began early Monday morning. We had plenty of energy, but felt a little unsure of what to expect from the course. We spent the morning playing icebreakers, energisers and name games, so we’d get to know each other easily. The afternoon was spent forming a class contract, where we promised to treat everyone with respect and to give 110% in every session. We were briefly introduced to the topic of human rights by brainstorming words linked to what human rights meant to us. It was interesting to hear the differing opinions of people from different countries. That night, we attended an intercultural evening in the Grenzenlos office, the organisation running the event. We represented Ireland with pride, bringing Tayto and whiskey toffee for participants to try. We sang the national anthem and taught everyone some Irish and modern dances and were then showed up when the girl from Russia taught everyone how to Irish dance properly. It was an amazing night sampling food, singing songs, and learning dances from different countries. We did it all from the Macarena to a Traditional Hungarian dance that was so fast we couldn’t keep up to a limbo competition where Eve was crowned Champion.

Tuesday began with a simplified version of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. From here on in, we were told that the course would be a bit more intense and theory-based. I was afraid that we were going to be bombarded with information and that I wouldn’t be able to retain everything. However, there was nothing to worry about, as the trainers ensured that the theory was mixed with fun and creative activities. We designed maps of our perfect cities and then linked the human rights to different buildings in our cities. What became clear was that some human rights are easier to categorise than others and that, no matter how perfect we make our cities, human rights violations can occur everywhere. Each evening, we had reflection groups where we discussed the day we had and suggested what worked well and what didn’t. One group per day would also type up a small blog post for the website.

On Wednesday, we played the ‘Walk in my Shoes’ Game. We were each given a persona relating to the participating countries, and we had to take a step forward if the statements read out applied to us. It was inspiring to hear the thoughts of others on what it’s like to live in Ireland, compared to the truth. After our tea break (the most important time of the day), we were split into smaller groups and were asked to act out the main events in the history of human rights, starting from ancient Egypt onwards. It was fun to act out the different periods in history and made me understand the history better. That afternoon, we went on a walking tour of Vienna to see the sights. Afterwards, we had dinner in a restaurant that employs refugees and ex-convicts to help them begin a new life and it was brilliant getting to know everyone better.

After a late night, Thursday morning was spent doing group meditation. This took me out of my comfort zone but it made me feel more focused for the day ahead. We split into groups and practised theatre of the oppressed. I had never done an activity like this before and was a bit worried that it would be a flop. Each group was given a scenario featuring oppression. My group was given the scenario of immigrants who were allowed within a country’s borders, however had no human rights. It took us a long time to come up with a suitable scene, however, we decided to portray the language barrier, sickness and hostility that immigrants experience in continental countries. I had little to no experience of immigration, however, others in my group had first-hand experience so this allowed the scene to become more realistic. We then acted out our scene in front of the whole group. Any time an audience member felt like an actor was being oppressed, they had to clap and intervene to make the situation better. This proved challenging at first as we had to improvise parts of our scene. Yet having finished this activity, I felt empowered and more confident to stand up for my rights.

Friday was the chance to use what we had learned over the week to design and carry out a workshop of our own. The previous night we had heard from another Grenzenlos trainer about the groups we would be working with. We had a choice of running a workshop in a centre for disadvantaged youth, a kindergarten, in the Grenzenlos office or create a public flash mob. Both Eve and I chose to participate in the public flash mob. We spent Thursday night and Friday morning planning what we would do. We decided on a street performance in the heart of Vienna. We wrote up the articles of the declaration of Human Rights in German and English. We wrote leading questions on our arms and dotted ourselves around the busy places in Vienna, such as the Museums Quarter, the shopping district and People’s Park. One person would hold up an article and the rest of us would spread out and point at that person. We created a human circle each holding up articles in German and English. Some of us stood at either side of busy roads. When the lights were red, we ran across the road and gave each other hugs. We did this to draw attention to the right of equality. The street performance was an incredible experience and it gave me more confidence to run workshops and projects about things I’m passionate about.

Saturday was the last day of the workshop and it was met with great sadness but also fulfilment in all that we’d achieved. We reflected on the week and what we had accomplished. We suggested what could have been done differently and wrote positive messages to each member of the group. That night, we had our farewell party and it marked the end of what was an amazing, empowering and once in a lifetime week.

Sunday was our last day and we got the chance to visit the Crown Jewels and do some shopping in the city. We had entered the week anxious, worried and with jittery nerves. We left feeling empowered, confident, and ready to make a change back home. Not only had I gained a greater knowledge about human rights, but I had done so in an encouraging and non-judgemental environment, where I could be myself. I made some great memories and earned some very intelligent and generous friends from all around the world. As this wasn’t a WAGGGS event, it was eye-opening to learn about the various worldwide organisations that have similar aims to that of IGG. Thanks to Lorna, Ruth and Fiona for all their support and for giving us this opportunity, as well as all the trainers at Grenzenlos. For anyone who has thought about applying for international events with IGG, it is the most rewarding opportunity that you can get, and I can’t recommend it enough.

~ Amy McAuley and Eve Moody

Welcome to the new Guiding year!

After an exciting summer, which included IGGNITE 2017, thoughts now turn to the new Guiding year. Many opportunities and new experiences were on offer and it was good to see that so many Leaders, Senior Branchers, Guides, Brownies, Ladybirds and Trefoil Guild members were involved.

The new Guiding year is beginning and weekly meetings, that are core to the Guiding programme, are up and running. Autumn and winter offer their own opportunities and, even with daylight disappearing early, we can get into the outdoors or bring it in! I look back to working with Guides and remember that simple ideas could work well, torches always added to the fun and what can be done with fallen leaves is non-ending.

There are lots of opportunities coming up - Free Being Me Month in October, Cookie Month is coming up in November and they will provide opportunities for raising self-esteem and gaining new skills.

Irish Girl Guides has always been very involved with international Guiding and WAGGGS and Jillian van Turnout was named first substitute for the World Board. Elspeth Henderson and the late Diane Dixon held positions on the World Board previously. Today’s girls may well have similar opportunities in the future and it is in the local Units the fostering of Guiding and friendship and self-confidence is begun.

Getting everyone settled in can make for a busy start to the year - new members, new plans and maybe new Leaders.  I hope you all have a good year and hope to meet you over the year at the events and I will be happy to receive any invitations. Listening and talking to Irish Girl Guide members helps me to keep up to date and represent you well at outside events.   

Best wishes to everyone for the year ahead. 

~ Maureen Murphy, President, Irish Girl Guides 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

'I recommend volunteering to anyone with adventure in their hearts!'

My name is Edel Harty and I am a Senior Branch member in the South West Region, (but my camp name is Sunflower) and I'm here to tell you all about the amazing experience I've had during my last two summers as a staff member at Camp Lachenwald!

I stumbled across this opportunity in 2016 as I was reading the IGG weekly communications newsletter and I thought ‘Why not?’!

I had no idea what I was getting myself into but, before I knew it, I was booking my flights from Dublin Airport to Munich.

Camp Lachenwald is a resident camp that is held for one week for USA Girl Scouts who are stationed in a European country because one or both of their parents are in the military/navy and are not living in the United States. It is such a great way for girls to make friends with fellow Girl Scouts who may have
to move to a different country every two to three years.

Pre-Camp was a great opportunity for all the staff to get to know each other and their camp names, figure out our schedules for our girls and make sure everything was set up and ready to go. Don't get me wrong, this is very tough work. This year we had 115 girls at camp and each unit needed to be cleaned out, provided
with cooking utensils, picnic tables and benches, mattresses etc! Staff and the campers slept in platform tents that held 6 cots each.

A Typical Day at Camp
7:45-8:00 - Morning Flag
We raised the American, German and Girl Scout flags.

8:00-8:15 - Singing time
All girls and staff head to the singing porch and sing camp songs and grace to get us in a good mood for the day!

8:15-8:45 - Brekkie
This is very different to Irish camp breakfast - at Lachenwald we had American cereal, cinnebuns,  fruit and, every second day, we had a cooked breakfast. One morning we had a unicorn-themed breakfast and it was truly magical!
(I have no breakfast pictures because generally people were understandably cranky this early!)

9:00 - Lunch
The girls did two different rotations of activities (with snack in-between). The activities included arts and crafts in the Kunst Haus (Art House) like Tie Dye (my absolute FAVE), outdoor activities like archery and shelter building, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), like building catapults and learning about simple machines. On the Monday and Tuesday of camp the older girls had a canoeing and high ropes trip, which they really enjoyed!  We then would have lunch normally on the green and sometimes we even got official Girl Scout cookies for snacks (which are delish)! We then had two more rotations of activities before dinner.

17:45-18:00 - Evening Flag
We would retire the American, German and Girl Scout flags. There are specific ways to fold the American and German flags, which we taught the girls.

18:00-18:15- Singing porch
Everyone joins in song to get in the mood to line their tummies. I learned so many different songs that I had never heard before … along with the actions, of course!

18:15-19:00- Dinner
We had a different themed dinner every night! We had Italian Night, Chinese Night, Mexican Night and Hawaiian night. The dining hall was decorated as per the theme and the food to match!

As I had the Brownies, after dinner we would bring the girls to the shower house and head for bed - you would be amazed at how long this process took! Older girls continued
activities like glow in the dark archery and street art.

Thursday 27th July- Europapark Day!
Camp Lachenwald's theme this year was Thrills and Adventures so 150 of us headed off to Rust on a bus to the second largest theme park in Europe. We had such a fantastic day filled with fun and thrills.

The kids returned home on the Friday to many different European countries and all the staff were happy, yet sad, that camp had ended. We headed out for the annual staff dinner where we shared funny stories from the past week and we received our "paper plate
awards". I was awarded the "Brownie Whisperer Award" as staff had joked all week that I had some sort of magic power to handle 21 Brownies!

I had an absolute ball with the best staff team anyone could ask for. From campfires to thunderstorms, I experienced everything that Girl Scout camp had to offer and it's an experience I will never forget.

I truly have made friends for life and I would highly recommend volunteering as a staff member to anyone with adventures in their hearts!

IGGNITE was so much more than I expected!

As a Leader relatively new to Guiding I had no idea what to expect. I thought we would be pitching our tent in a field and the girls would “do activities” the other side of the field. The reality was so much more…

Our girls did themselves proud. Cheerfully lugging tons of bags and tents they set up camp with a flourish. Hauling water from the water station and eating outside, they got themselves ready. Despite eight to a tent, they prepared for the many challenging activities organised for them at 10.00am each morning. Happy chatter filled the air as they headed off in hail, rain or sunshine for the day ahead.

The “field” became a “village” of tents all shapes and sizes, each Region having their own space, artfully decorated and signposted.

The programme ran like clockwork. Evening sessions were a chance for everyone to get together and badge swapping was a favourite activity, especially with the international Guides.

As a Leader, our food plans submitted months ago were allocated to us daily and we became Master Chefs on our two ring gas stoves churning out five different dishes of an evening to cater for all needs!

What was most impressive was the focus on inspiring and empowering our girls to believe that they each can make a difference. It was an inspiring message, powerfully delivered. The girls proved themselves capable and confident, resilient in all weathers and, working together, they had a busy, fun-filled week that should prove to them that they are more than capable of overcoming any obstacles they come in their way.

Standing Up for Equality at IGGNITE2017!

When I first heard that I was going to be an activity Leader for IGGNITE2017, I was anxious but ready to take on the challenge. When I heard that I would have to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into my activity, my readiness slowly began to dwindle. The SDGs are 17 global goals with 169 targets between them. They are focused on achieving sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most serious problems, including poverty and climate change. They build on the Millennium Development Goals and were formulated by the UN, which hopes to achieve these goals by 2030.

When we went to the staff training, there was a session on the SDGs and, once we had completed this training, I began to grow in confidence. I also did my own research on the SDGs so I arrived at camp fully prepared and excited to get started. I was placed in the ‘Be an Advocate’ zone and the activity I ran was called ‘Stand Up for Equality’. The SDGs that the activity focused on were 5-Gender Equality and 10-Reducing Inequalities. I was delighted to be running a workshop on equality as I believe that everyone deserves to be equal but that it is something we all are still struggling to achieve. I had attended the Use Your Voice international camp in England last year and I was excited to bring what I had learned at their advocacy session to this camp. We were going to run our activities four times a day and have around 30 girls per session. 

Before I get into details about my activity, I want to make it clear that I could not have run any activity at all without all the other amazing staff in the ‘Be an Advocate’ zone, especially the zone leaders Niamh Teeling and Aisling O’Boyle. I had been really busy preparing my activity, but the amount of work that they put into that zone to make it enjoyable and educational, was second to none.

It was probably the most challenging zone. It was more educational and mostly based in classrooms. There was less running around and I was afraid that the girls would get bored easily. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelmingly positive response that I got from all of the Guides and Senior Branch members that walked through that classroom door over the week. Myself and two other staff members started the activity by asking the girls what they knew about advocacy, the SDGs and equality. At the beginning, the girls were all really quiet. However, once the brave person spoke first, we had great discussions about equality and how the girls could become advocates themselves.

After the discussion, we played a game called ‘Walk in my Shoes’. The girls were each given a persona, from varying backgrounds. They had to think about their backgrounds, financial and family situations, where they lived and if they experienced inequalities. A list of statements was read out, and the girls took a step forward if the statement applied to their persona and a step backwards if it didn’t. The girls that took a lot of steps were ones playing daughters of high-profile politicians, or people who owned companies such as Google. Those that didn’t take any steps forward included those girls who had the personas of disabled college students and refugees with no English. It was a great game to play as it got the girls thinking. What was surprising was that every group was different and the girls had varying reasons to justify why they did or didn’t step forward.

After this game, we decided to run a short activity to look at stereotypes surrounding certain occupations. The girls closed their eyes and a list of jobs was read out. They raised their hands depending on whether they pictured a man, woman or both a man and a woman doing the job. Many of the girls believed that builders, taxi drivers and football players were all labelled as ‘male occupations’ whereas jobs such as hairdressers, nurses and models were deemed to be ‘female’ roles. This was interesting as opinions varied from person to person and it also provoked a lot of chat.  What became apparently clear was that most of the girls had experienced inequalities in their daily lives, most notably in the subjects that they could take at school and the sports they played. The main reason for this was because they were girls. We quickly discovered that there are certain stigmas and stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a girl. The girls told me that certain subjects were labelled as ‘boys’ subjects’ and were unavailable to them. Those who play on sports teams receive less funding, support and equipment than boys’ teams. Some of the girls were told that they couldn’t play with the boys in their school as the boys were ‘too rough’ for them. Games were made easier for the girls and some teachers described them as ‘weak and incapable’.

We then watched a video of an advertising campaign ran by Always. The people in the video were told to run and fight like girls. The adults in the video all ran like Phoebe in Friends and portrayed themselves as weak. It was the men behaving ‘like girls’ that really made the Guides laugh. The men in the video believed they were not being offensive to women, however, in fact, they were. At the end of the video, younger girls were brought out and told to do the same thing. They behaved like themselves. We learned that it is only as we grow older that we become aware of the stereotypes surrounded with gender and that girls are particularly vulnerable to these stereotypes when they are teenagers. It was great to see the girls’ reactions while they watched the video.

We concluded the workshop by recording voxpops (voxpops are short interviews with members of the public). They are usually based on topical and political items and are broadcast on radio. The girls broke into smaller groups and discussed how they could use their voice in the media and stand up and be heard. We had a great array of voxpops including skits, interviews, conversational pieces, news reports, songs, raps, stories and poems. It was great to see the girls growing in confidence and breaking out of their shells. Many of the topics recorded were based on what they had learned in other workshops in the ‘Be an Advocate’ zone, such as climate change and the refugee crisis. We also had voxpops based on gender equality, how women are portrayed in the media and, of course, how the girls were finding IGGNITE2017.

I am overwhelmed with how much the girls learned over the week and how they used their voices to advocate for change. We all learned many new things about ourselves and overcame many challenges. Seeing the girls leaving our room with smiles on their faces and a passion for the SDGs was probably my favourite part of camp. The advocacy session on Saturday morning with females at the top of their profession was further inspiration to go out and make a change. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to run this workshop and I came away with an amazing sense of drive, confidence and determination, as well as tons of new badges, friends and memories. I am using what I have learned at this camp locally and I have just been appointed as the SDG Advocate for Louth. This camp was unbelievable and I cannot wait for the next one.

-Amy McAuley (Drogheda Senior Branch)

Brownie Lottie doll to empower girls to pursue their dreams

A newly-launched Brownie Lottie doll is set to empower girls to become more adventurous and to pursue their dreams.

The Brownie figure, like all Lottie dolls, is modelled on the proportions of an average nine-year-old child. She comes with a Brownie uniform and accessories include a tent, camping equipment and a kayak. There’s even a campfire and sausages and marshmallows!

The Brownie Lottie doll was launched on 4 August at our international camp, IGGNITE2017, which saw 1,800 Girl Guides from 12 different countries camp under canvas in Rockwell College. The girls took part in a range of activities to help them ‘BE’ adventurous, active, confident, unique, limitless, inventive and to ‘BE’ survivors and advocates.

Launching the doll, Nicola Grinstead, Chair of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), said: “We love the way Lottie dolls are age-appropriate and relatable and they empower children to be themselves, to be imaginative, adventurous and, of course, to have fun. This partnership is a perfect fit for us as WAGGGS’s vision is that ‘All girls are valued and can take action to change the world’.”

Irish Girl Guides Chief Commissioner, Helen Concannon, said: “We hope the Lottie Brownie doll will not only encourage our younger members to be more active and adventurous, but will facilitate the empowerment of many more girls besides and might encourage them to become Brownies and Guides too.” 

Ian Harkin, Managing Director of Arklu, the Donegal-based company that designs the Lottie dolls, described the new doll as “a must-have plaything for every young Brownie, who’ll be able to bring Brownie activities to life with Lottie in their very own home. She’ll appeal to other adventurous-minded children too.”

The Lottie Brownie doll retails at €19.95. To find your nearest stockist, use the store locator on or order online. 80 cents of every sale in Ireland goes to Irish Girl Guides. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Discovering the fun of STEM through Lego Robotics Summer Academy

Twenty-two members of Irish Girl Guides aged 14-22 took part in a Lego Robotics Summer Academy in Dublin City University's LEGO Education Innovation Studio. Here two of the participants, Maggie Cumiskey and Méabh Lonergan, tell us of their experience:

Before starting our LEGO camp journey, we were all very excited and a bit nervous.  Some people came with friends, some with sisters, and some went without knowing a single person.

We arrived in St Patrick’s campus, DCU, on the Monday morning. We were each assigned our own room in student accommodation, which comprised of a desk, bed, wardrobe and a sink.

Each day was different on the Robotics course. We were gradually introduced to the robots and the idea of coding. We started off rather simply with a cute robot called Milo. Building the robot was really fun as I think most of us hadn’t played with LEGO in years. It was really nice to be able to sit back and feel like a kid again! Coding Milo was also really fun and surprisingly easy. We followed instructions step by step to make him go forwards and backwards as well as make him stop with different sensors.

At first it was really daunting because I don’t think many of us had done any coding before. However, once we got into it, it was very easy. Each of us turned to our partner at some stage and said “That was us. We did that!” and maybe high-fiving each other every once in a while.

After Milo, we moved onto a new, slightly more complicated robot. We built him as normal but the coding was slightly different and way more specific. It was a lot harder to make him move and there was a lot more work involved to make him go. We had to measure the distance we wanted him to move and then calculate the number of wheel rotations needed to get there. My original thoughts were Oh dear God, maths. I haven’t done maths in two years!” It was very easy maths, though, so I was very relieved. We also could make this robot turn, unlike Milo, which took two robots. On this new one we had to be very specific and calculate the exact degree we needed. He was a lot more challenging but also a lot more fun. It was really cool to code it ourselves and make it complete little challenges that we were set.

We used this robot for the rest of the week in our “Mission To Mars project. This was so much fun and I think it’s safe to say the most enjoyable part of the week. We were all split into groups of four and given a new robot to build (We called him Tobias Walowitz and Brobot). The aim of this project was to build and code a suitable robot to complete up to seven challenges on Mars in under than two and half minutes. This was so much fun as we had the freedom to extend our robot and use the skills we had learned in the prevoius few days. We measured, calculated distances and angles like crazy. There were so many different emotions running through everyone those few days when it went right and when it didn’t. Needless to say, we were all very proud of our robots when we finished the challenges. Especially as both our teams came at a respectable first and second.

During the week, we heard talks from Dr Niamh Shaw, a woman who took part in a Mars simulation experience and Rosemary Steen, director of Eirgrid.  It was interesting to hear these women speak, and hear their opinions on how to succeed in male-dominated areas.

After we left the robotics room, we took part in a number of evening activities:  we went to the cinema to see Baywatch and Wonder Woman, went rock climbing in Awesome Walls, went to Bounce Zone, and finally visited Google and Milanos! These were a great way for us to push our comfort zone and get to know the others better.

We learnt a lot from this week: like, how to programme a robot (of course). It wasn't as hard as I imagined: so much of it was measuring and working out angles, before writing them into a basic code. I'd never played much with LEGO before and I was surprised at how easy it was to build a robot that could grab, lift, drop and spin things. Overall it was an excellent week and I think we were all sad to be going home. It definitely opened our eyes to the world of programming and computing, and especially how women can influence STEM.

One of the best parts of the week was because of the fact that, as we were such a small group (22), we all bonded really well with the others over the five days. Seeing each other push our comfort zones in the evening activities, watching each others’ creations fail and succeed, and supporting each other all the time, (and having impromptu singalongs to Fall Out Boy), made us become great friends, and feel almost like one big (and loud) family by the end of the week.

We'd like to thank Ross, Rob, Deidre, and all those at DCU for creating such a fab week, Rosemary and Niamh for giving up their time to talk to us, and Lorna and Emer for organising it, and making sure we didn't die or get lost in Dublin. And the other girls, for grabbing the opportunity with both hands (and not killing me every time I asked them could I use them on the IGG and SB Snapchat stories).

Make sure to sign up for next year!