A guide for life

International  Guide Camp Chief Jenny Gannon (centre) with her two Assistant Camp Chiefs, Gillian Finan (left ) and Áine Divilly (right) -  Photographer Pat McCoole

International Guide Camp Chief Jenny Gannon (centre) with her two Assistant Camp Chiefs, Gillian Finan (left ) and Áine Divilly (right) - Photographer Pat McCoole

In summer 2017 Tipperary welcomed 1,800 Girl Guides for the IGGNITE International Camp

“In my real life I’m a primary school teacher but I’ve been involved with the Girl Guides since I was a child,” says Jenny Gannon. The teacher from Newbridge, Co Kildare, took on the role of Camp Chief two years ago, having previously had a variety of roles - both locally and at a national level - within the Irish Girl Guides organisation.

“We run an international camp every five years and this year I’m taking on the role
of Chief. Basically that means it’s my job to organise the camp, set up all of the teams who are going to look after it, have overall responsibility for the activities and the health and safety of the girls who will come to camp in July.”

The Girl Guides would not be possible without volunteers generously giving up their time to help out and Jenny is quick to praise those who work hard to make every event a success. “Everybody takes on their role and does a phenomenal job. We have nine or ten teams and they have other sub teams, looking after different elements of it. Really, at the end of the day, my job is to designate the work but it’s all of the other volunteers who come in, prepare it and put it all in place. There’s a huge shared responsibility across the board to make sure that the event is successful and to make sure the girls benefit from it.”

As a teenager Jenny moved abroad for some time and found herself living in a strange country, not knowing any of her peers. She credits the Girl Guides with helping her get through this tough transition and says it was akin to a ready-made pool of people she had things in common with. “When I was 14 we ended up living in America because my dad had to move there for work. I had been a Guide in Newbridge, so when we moved to the States we looked up the local unit and away I went.

“It was great at that stage because I had an automatic circle of friends and I have always stayed involved. I opened my own Ladybird unit when I was 18 and for three years back in the early 2000s I was Chair of the Ladybird Branch; looking after the programme and the training of all of our Ladybird leaders throughout the country.”

When Jenny took on the role of Senior Branch Chair, her aim was to keep the organisation appealing to its members and the current adjustments to the programme are beneficial to those involved. “More recently I took on the role of
Senior Branch Chair. We have changed
and redeveloped the programme and have brought it in line with Gaisce [the President’s award]. Now any of our members who are aged between 14-30 years old if they do the Guide programme, then they also complete all of the mandatory requirements of the Gaisce President’s Award. They get both which is fantastic and being in a position to do that, along with the Gaisce partnership, is brilliant as well.”

The Girl Guide philosophy is a positive one, incorporating fun into the educational elements of the programme. The leaders do their best to communicate with the members at a level they can appreciate and relate to. “Our overall aim is to make responsible citizens of the world, that is part of our ethos,” says Jenny. “We work to educate girls about what life is like in different parts of the world, not just on their own doorstep. We have a programme that very much enables them to try new things, to step outside of what they would consider their box and really
to push themselves that little bit. We try to do everything with games, activities and enjoyment. Anything our members learn is done through fun, positivity and a non- formal type of education.”

The Girl Guides is a female-only organisation and Jenny feels this typeof environment gives members the opportunity to express their thoughts, avoiding the possible awkwardness they may feel having to do so in front of the opposite sex as they reach their teens. “I suppose it allows them a little bit more freedom, particularly during the teenage years where the girls don’t have to worry about what the boys are thinking and so on and so forth.”

Between girls and leaders there are over 10,000 Girl Guide members in Ireland, working in units across the country.
In general, the Guides have an active programme that they follow, getting involved with camps either in their own unit or regional camps, during the summer months. Jenny explains that once every five years a huge international camp takes place, with Guides travelling from all over Ireland and the world to take part.

“Meeting the girls who are involved in Guides and living in other countries, really gives them an international flavour. is year we’re lucky that we have a number of international staff who are going to be there, so that’s an exciting aspect to it. They’re looking to come in and help out which is great,” says Jenny.

From left Cashel Guide Lauren Fitzgerald (11), Thurles Guide Ali Ahonen-Smith (12) and Cashel Guide Amy Stockil (12) -   Photographer Pat McCoole

From left Cashel Guide Lauren Fitzgerald (11), Thurles Guide Ali Ahonen-Smith (12) and Cashel Guide Amy Stockil (12) - Photographer Pat McCoole

In summer 2017 the Free Being Me programme, which aims to encourage young people to be confident and happy in their own skin, ran at the international camp. Jenny says she was delighted to be involved with the initiative - which was in association with Dove and the World Association of Girl Guides - and believes the message is one that everyone should adhere to.

“I went to a training weekend on the programme when it was first being launched; we then decided to jump on board and get involved. It’s all about allowing the girls to be themselves and showing them that each of them is beautiful in their own right. Reiterating that each of us needs to look after ourselves and be happy with the body that we have.”

Becoming a member or working with Girl Guides is not just reserved for children and teens, in fact the surprising yet meaningful friendships older volunteers develop, are an unexpected bonus to getting involved. “From an adult point of view it’s fantastic because you get to meet lots of other women who are from different careers, different walks of life and different backgrounds. It also allows people to give something to the next generation.

“We’re always looking for more leaders because the more leaders we have, the more girls we can take. e only qualification required to be a leader is that you’re flexible with your time and can spare an hour and a half a week. We offer training and support to all of our leaders who are starting off and they get constant support and training as they go through the organisation.”

Jenny says that the Girl Guides is more than a hobby for those involved and she looks upon the organisation as a valuable stepping-stone for the future. “It gives them the chance to figure out where their talents lie and to try a variety of things. They begin to see what they can do to make a contribution to the world, or at least their world and second to that are the wonderful friendships they make.”

Michelle Newman