Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Chief's 2016 - 'The Experience of a Lifetime'!

From 7-14 August 2016 13 other girls and I took on one of Guiding’s hardest challenges. None of us knew what to expect. However with a box that says “An Experience of a Lifetime” on the label, who isn’t going to at least try and see how it goes?

However, our journey started way back in July with our preliminary hike. After being bullied by some unexpected bulls and taking on the most intense routes our rural locality had to offer in preparation, we had done everything we could do. There was nothing left to do but get on the bus and see where it took us.

Where this bus ended up taking us was The Ring Lyne hostel on Valentia island. When it became apparent on the journey that the Chief’s would be in Kerry, we were thinking along the lines of Dingle and Kenmare, not the beautiful but discreet Iveragh peninsula. After getting to know the other girls properly on arrival, we all at least had the comfort that, no matter how the Award went, we had made new friends and that in itself was unforgettable.

The next morning was where the real work began. In our teams, we were dropped off at our separate destinations. Aishling O Connor, Niamh Mc Sweeney and I had tried to track where we were being taken. However, no matter how hard we tried we were still surprised to be dropped off abruptly at Cillín Liath.  We spent a good hour making out a plan and briefly spoke to some Canadian cyclists passing by.  It was ironic as, it was only just after they left, we realised they could have assisted us with a project which involved speaking to tourists. Typical.

Starting at Cillín Liath to Waterville to Ballinaskellig to Keel and back to Valentia, it would surprise anyone that, for such a long journey, it went as quickly as it did. The week went faster than any of us could have predicted.  In my mind, the high points we experienced, such as walking on the beach in Ballinaskellig to writing our song on the road to Keel outweighed any lows we encountered. In reality, we were blessed as the only lows we encountered were the mood swings that came with a long day’s walking. Luckily, these mood swings wouldn’t last long, as five minutes later we would be laughing as the adrenalin of the amazing time we were having would kick in and it would be as if nothing had happened.

By the time Day 5 (our final day) came, we had developed a clear-cut attitude to finish what we started and make ourselves and our Leaders proud. It doesn’t surprise me how we walked the last day as determined as we did. Our blood was pumping and we were so proud of ourselves and each other for getting through the week as level-headed as we did. We had realised something important throughout the week. The Chief’s wasn’t just a physical challenge but a psychological one too.
When we handed in our logs and projects at our pick-up point (at The Ring Lyne hostel where we were first taken), we really felt that we had fully taken on the challenge. Although we were back where we started, the communication and perseverance skills we had learned along the way meant, as people, we were not the same as we were leaving the hostel on that very first day.

On the day of our award ceremony, emotions were high and the question on every contender’s mind was the same: “Had we done enough?” When the time came and, team by team, received the news we were ALL successful! The atmosphere after achieving ourselves, and seeing our friends achieve, what we know they worked so hard for was indescribable; we could genuinely say we weren’t just happy for ourselves. I never knew feeling true happiness for someone else could feel as enriching as it did for us as a team. It felt just as good as us just achieving for ourselves.

I think it was receiving the kindness from strangers during the week that made us appreciate people in general more, especially each other and the friends we made, which led us to feeling this way. This is a skill I, or any of us, wouldn’t have fully developed if it wasn’t for the Chief’s.

Taking part in the Chief Commissioner’s Award wasn’t just “The Experience of a Lifetime”, it was an experience that made us better people, which will last a lifetime.

~ Emma Barry, Macroom, Co Cork

Thursday, 11 August 2016

10th August 2016 – Day 4 Chief's

With tired legs, heavy bags and a slight smile all the teams have now successfully made the halfway mark. Friday is fast approaching on the horizon and with it comes excitement, relief and a little disappointment that the journey is coming to an end. 

Today Amy and Sarah visited Skellig Pottery to complete their project on a local artist/craftsperson. They discussed their work with them and where they got their inspiration from.

Emer and Nicole completed their community service when they came across a community centre along their route to Waterville. They ended up washing a large van with a hose and washing up liquid. We think that the man in the centre was genuinely surprised when they took him up on his request to have the van washed having held out the hose and the bucket and fully expecting the girls to say "um actually thats ok!" They left in high spirits having completed one of the harder tasks and hit the road off to their campsite for the night with smiles on their faces. 

Two teams managed to find their way to the Skelligs Chocolate factory, where they worked on their food producers challenge. They were welcomed with smiles and curious questions about the chiefs, some of the factory workers took pity on them and gave them extra chocolate as part of the chocolate tasting. It makes you wonder whether the girls were there for the challenge or the chocolate. 

The two Lucan teams were reunited in Keel (also known as the Glen by the locals as we learnt after we got blank looks when asking for directions). The girls sat together over the trangia recounting their tales from their journey so far and comparing stories and adventures along the way. 

Meanwhile the two teams who were camped out in Ballinskelligs for the night were having a ball of a time, between the tea and watching the olympics after being taken pity on by a local they had a relaxed evening finished off by the stories of the transatlantic cable which of course they had to go out and see in person. 

Overall it was a successful day for all and the girls seem to be starting to get a real sense of accomplishment. While everybody climbed into their tents exhausted from the day the general atmosphere was positive and upbeat. I think everybody will have slept well through the night! 

Campsites Night 3

Team 1 - Emma Barry, Niamh Mcsweeney, Aishling O’Connor – Ballinskelligs
Team 2 - Sarah King, Cliona Woods, Erin McElwee – Keel
Team 3 – Emer Curtin, Nicole Moore – Waterville GAA
Team 4 – Ciara Dineen, Aislinn Porter – Ballinskelligs 
Team 5 – Amy Dunne, Sarah Connolly – Keel

Team 6 – Jennifer O’Neill, Ann Kavanagh – Portmagee

9th of August - Day 3 Chief's

All the teams woke up to the sun shining and a blue sky. We are so blessed with the weather this week. The girls don’t know how lucky they are. While preparing their breakfast each team ran through their plan for the day in terms of what route they were going to take, where they were going to stop off for lunch and the projects that they were going to try and complete. If passing through Waterville could they drop in to find out some information on Charlie Chaplin or while in Cahersiveen talk to the locals to learn more about Daniel O’Connell. 

Jennifer and Ann completed their community service at Glen Day Care Centre in Keel whereby they helped to clean up after an old folk’s dinner and visited the beach before pitching their tent and cooking dinner. A great day was had by all. 

One team managed to buy food on offer in one of the local Centra stores and ended up having steak for dinner. A first for the Chief Commissioner’s Award!!!!!   

Campsites Night 2

Team 1 - Emma Barry, Niamh Mcsweeney, Aishling O’Connor – Waterville
Team 2 - Sarah King, Cliona Woods, Erin McElwee – Ballinskelligs
Team 3 – Emer Curtin, Nicole Moore – Ballinskelligs
Team 4 – Ciara Dineen, Aislinn Porter – Keel
Team 5 – Amy Dunne, Sarah Connolly – Portmagee

Team 6 – Jennifer O’Neill, Ann Kavanagh – Keel 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

8th August 2016 – Chief's Day 2

The girls woke up to a full Irish Breakfast (kindly made by Clare, Deirdre and Joe) before they reluctantly surrendered their phones and luxury bags for the week.

Each team was gathered and dropped off at a different mystery location across the Iveragh Peninsula. They were handed a folder containing an introduction letter, list of projects, budget money for the week, emergency instructions, mobile phone, list of base camps and a map. After this they were left on their own to read through their team pack and plan out their route for the day and the entire week to ensure that they reached their 60km mark and the projects that they would complete along the way. One team camped at each of six locations situated at Waterville, Ballinskelligs, Keel, Portmagee, Valentia Island and Cahersiveen. At the end of a long day of walking for the girls, we left our base to head out and check in with them at their campsites, bringing the water for cooking and to fill their water bottles for the following day. When we arrived the girls were setting up to cook their dinner, dinner ranged from group to group. Then we pitched our own tents alongside theirs and settled in for the night.

Campsites Night 1

Team 1 - Emma Barry, Niamh Mcsweeney, Aishling O’Connor – Bru Na Dromoda Hostel
Team 2 - Sarah King, Cliona Woods, Erin McElwee – Waterville GAA
Team 3 – Emer Curtin, Nicole Moore – Keel
Team 4 – Ciara Dineen, Aislinn Porter – Portmagee
Team 5 – Amy Dunne, Sarah Connolly – Valentia Island
Team 6 – Jennifer O’Neill, Ann Kavanagh – Ballinskelligs

7th August 2016 – Chief's Day 1

The 2016 Chiefs participants travelling from Lucan, Bray, Edenderry, Bishopstown and Macroom made it safely to our meeting point (Killarney Train Station) at 2:30pm today with smiles on their faces. Nerves and excitement were in the air before they stepped onto a bus to travel to our secret location. After months of preparation the time had arrived to get ready for the biggest challenge of their lives.

Following a 1hr 30min drive along small twisty roads through the beautiful countryside the girls stepped off the bus onto Valentia Island soil. Everyone headed into our base (Ring Lyne, Chapeltown, Valentia Island) to meet Georgina, Clare and I.  .

The evening started on a high as everyone received their purple Chiefs t-shirt and yellow Chiefs neckerchief. The girls got the chance to settle in and chat to new faces within the group before they took part in ice-breakers and posed for photos.

Following dinner the girls got the time to ask those last minute questions about the week and what was expected of them over the course of their journey before heading downstairs for the all important gear check. How many pens do you think you really need? Georgina and I also took the time to remind them about the important things like mileage and projects before they headed for bed thinking about their adventure and how they will work together to get to their first campsite.

Suzanne O'Brien
(Chief Commissioner's Award 2016) 

Friday, 5 August 2016

'I wouldn't change a thing about my trip to India!'

As six Leaders from Dublin sat in the airport at 11am on a Wednesday morning, we had no idea what we were going to be met by on the other side, or the amazing stories and memories that we would come home with. From sari shopping to hiking in a monsoon to cows in the middle of the road, I wouldn't change a thing!

After 10 hours on planes, five hours in airports, five hours in a bus in Indian traffic and numerous police stops, we made it to Sangam for Creating Impact. To say we were met with a smile from

Catherine is an understatement! We were greeted with a fabulous Indian lunch and then whipped off to do aerial yoga, which is every bit as fun and mad as it sounds. Then off to Malaka Spice for dinner. That night we were brought to one of Sangam’s local staff’s home for an Eid celebration, which marks the end of Ramadan. We packed in Parvati Hill and Temple, a lot of rickshaw rides around Pune, another amazing lunch and dinner cooked for us in an Indian home - all before the event started!

The aim of the 'Creating Impact' event was to "learn about ourselves and discover the change we want to be in the world by working on a

Community Action Project (CAP)". Our event had five community partners to choose from, so there was something for everyone. From working with blind girls to painting murals and planting, from sorting recycled clothing to working with disabled children.

The event started with an opening ceremony with the flags of every country present paraded through the hall, finishing with the WAGGGS flag. It was an incredibly moving moment as all the countries came together as one, despite all
the troubles and hurt happening around the world. There was a traditional Indian welcome ceremony in the evening, complete with flower garlands, spices on our foreheads and candle lighting - more magical moments as we were introduced to the beautiful Indian culture.

Sunday brought one of the highlights of the event - sari shopping. Walking in and seeing walls upon walls of fabulous colours and patterns, it's hard not to get excited! The day finished with International Evening. Our event had participants from England, Scotland,
Denmark, two American groups and us. A group of Indian ladies who were heading to Pax Lodge soon also joined us to learn how to eat spaghetti and to perform their Bollywood dance for us.

Over the next three days, we all ventured out to our CAPs, with a rickshaw strike in the city making it a little harder. Murals of waterfalls and peacocks were painted, paths were created, plants planted, songs sung, crafts made, clothes sorted and, above all, a lot of fun was had by everyone involved. We all felt we had done something to make the lives of the people we
met a little better, even if just for one day, and we all felt we grew as people and as leaders.

Thursday morning we got a lie-in and a free afternoon. We took the opportunity to go to the Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in 1942 and where his wife and secretary passed away. There are lovely monuments for both his wife and secretary, as well as a portion of Gandhi's ashes. Just seconds from the horns and madness of the main road, it is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place,
with lovely handmade crafts for sale. We then headed to the Phoenix Mall, the largest mall in the city for a wander and food.

After a lovely, relaxing Thursday, Friday we headed off at 8am to Aamby Valley for a hike. We were told it was the easiest hike possible, with gravel paths and steps. We did have steps
with rivers flowing down them and a lot of mud on our so called gravel paths! Once we got to the top, all we saw was fog, suddenly like someone flicked a light switch, we could see for miles. It started spitting rain on the way down so we reckoned we didn't need raincoats due to the heat. Within minutes, we were in a monsoon and the typical Irish braved it with no raincoats singing the whole way down! The adventurous day ended with an indoor
camp fire with songs from all round the world.

On our penultimate day we had Indian Afternoon, with people walking around in every
colour you could think of. All in our sarees and punjabis, we looked like something out of a Bollywood movie. We tried Warli art, Indian embroidery, badminton, laughter yoga and Bollywood dancing, went on a trip to the spice shop across the road and had a traditional Maharastran feast, sitting cross-legged on the floor.

The final day brought many mixed emotions - heartbreak of leaving Sangam but the excitement of travelling to the Golden Triangle. We left Sangam and headed to the airport for our flight to Jaipur. In Jaipur, we rode
elephants to the top of the Amber Fort, saw 18th century astronomical clocks, visited The City Palace and tried to adjust to the heat. The views from the Amber Fort of Jaipur City and the river were spectacular, as we ran around like children until the heat got the better of us.

We left Jaipur in the morning to head to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Along the way, we stopped in a textile factory and shop, and a gem shop. We did a sunset tour of the Taj from the river side gardens. Standing looking at one of the 7 wonders of the world, a lovely Indian lady came up and asked to get her photo with the 6 of us. Apparently we were more interesting than one of the most famous monuments in the world! We were up at 5am to do a sunrise tour of the Taj the following
morning. Standing by the famous seat Diana, Princess of Wales, got her photo taken and the Duchess of Cambridge sat in more recently, we took a selfie! As we stood proudly in our purple uniform, we saw the lesser-known guest house and mosque stand just as beautiful beside the Taj.

We headed from Agra to Delhi, stopping at a marble workshop and a rug shop on the way. Our stay in Delhi started at the site were Gandhi was cremated. It is a lovely, simple, tasteful memorial to such an iconic figure. From here we went to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, holding 25,000 people for worship. Yet again, people seemed more interested in us than the mosque! We then went on cycle rickshaws through the very narrow streets of Old Delhi, where the poor driver had to battle the 38 degree
heat. We went to the local spice markets and learnt loads about the Indian spices and where and how they are grown. We visited the India Gate, a war memorial to the Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War. Through the middle of the gate, there is a beautiful view of the House of Parliament. Seeing as this was our last night in India, we all treated ourselves to an all you can eat buffet in the very fancy hotel next to ours. We were still full the next morning!

We left Delhi with heavy hearts on the Saturday morning, knowing our Indian adventure was very nearly over. We made it to Delhi airport and did as all women do in the airport, hit the duty-free! Over 14 hours and many dodgy plane meals later, we landed in Dublin and were met by our
families, all keen to hear our stories. The mini-figs even got upgraded to first class!

Having been to Sangam, I think it is an experience every Girl Guide and Girl Scout should get to have. I would not change any of it and would be back on the plane the minute I was given the chance! The people we met there will stay in our hearts forever and hopefully on our sub-camp at IGGNITE! The Indian culture is nothing like we are used to in the western world, but it is definitely something to be admired and appreciated. The slums and poverty will break your heart but the beauty and detail in the temples, monuments and palaces are second to none. 

As the Sangam song says: "The oneness found at Sangam brings joy to your soul".

~ Amy Thompson, Leader, Lucan Ladybirds