When you tell most people you were a Girl Guide they immediately seem to conjure up images of neatly-pressed uniforms and 10 different varieties of cookies.
In truth, most of my Girl Guide meetings, in rural Western Australia, involved learning things like how to change a flat tyre (yep, that’s how we spell it there) and how to dig a trench around a mud-soaked tent during a torrential downpour while on camp.
But while Girl Guides prepared me for many practical situations, there was a much bigger (albeit less obvious) way it armed me for later life.
I now work as the editor
of Peace News - a relatively new media platform. We focus on stories that reveal a
deeper understanding of a conflict – why it happened, how each side might feel
and what could help reconcile opposing groups. We often run stories on the
dangers of stereotypes, and the violence that comes from people not understanding
One thing that often strikes me is people’s intense fear of someone who is different to them. It’s not unique to the conflict regions I see at work – in my Australian homeland and where I am currently based in the USA I see sad examples of hatred. But I also see incredible examples of hope and tolerance.
Mark Twain once declared that, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” and, while it’s a bit of a lofty claim, I largely agree, but I would argue that the Girl Guides and Girl Scout Movement offers an antidote as well.
As it's a global organisation, the Girl Guiding community taught me very early on to value diversity. There was always the knowledge that somewhere, half a world away, there was a girl who, despite being from a completely different culture, was connected to me. Not only that, but that we both needed each other - that her unit and mine both supported the community we were part of. That kind of awareness tends to shape the way you look at the world.
For that outlook, I will always be grateful - that, and my ability to assist in road-side break-downs.