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I’ve been a Girl Guide most of my life. Being a Guide wasn’t always cool, but it was always busy, fun and fascinating. Recently I was reminded of exactly how much I miss the Guides.
I brought my 18-month-old twin boys to Camp 101, the international jamboree hosted by the Irish Girl Guides in Lough Key Forest Park. Along with two colleagues, I was helping to run a Trócaire workshop on climate justice. Trócaire had been invited by the Guides to reflect on environmental sustainability and the climate-related problems faced by millions of people around the world. Standing in front of our marquee with two enormous jerry cans full of water, we asked the girls some simple questions: What would it be like to be a refugee from the impacts of climate change? Could you carry this jerry can all the way to that lorry over there? Could you do that every day, with a baby on your back, and not enough food to eat?
When you’re at a Girl Guide camp it is easy to imagine life in temporary accommodation. You’re living under canvas with a large group of people, with only the most basic services (open fires for cooking; jerry cans for carrying water to be used for drinking, cooking and cleaning).
At Trócaire, we know too much about temporary camps. We’ve seen too many people forced from their homes because of conflict and changing weather patterns; too many women having to scramble for enough food and water for their families. And what we know most of all is how women take so much responsibility, and often have little voice or influence over their surroundings.
The Guides brings girls together, working outdoors all day on common projects. I remember those days and weeks as a teenager teaching younger girls to abseil; or working out how to build a bridge out of logs; or trekking across miles in a group of three with our tent and cooking stove on our backs.
These situations generate a feeling of confidence, ease with oneself, and constant learning. This is the feeling I desire for women around the world: The power of finding your own solutions to your own problems.
I used to visit a project in Central Honduras regularly when I worked there with Trócaire. I think that the women I visited there had this feeling. They got together as women to try to make things better for their communities.
But they got so much more out of the experience than services for their villages. They made friends, they grew in confidence; they believed in themselves and boosted the confidence of their companions. Some of them became leaders.
Trócaire gave them training and lots of ideas, but they set the agenda and they organised themselves. Whenever I asked what difference the project had made in their lives, I always received the same answer: “we used to be afraid, but now we’re not afraid to speak to anyone”.
Confidence, companionship, solidarity: it is out of these feelings that power grows for the poor and the excluded. It was a privilege to be part of Camp 101. It is a privilege to be part of women’s leadership and organisation around the world. The feeling of energy, confidence and strength that I carry with me from the Girl Guides is a feeling that will hopefully transform the lives of women around the world.
Captions: Top: Shane O’Connor conducts a climate justice workshop at Camp 101, hosted by the Irish Girl Guides in Lough Key Forest Park. .Photo: Carol Ballantine.
Bottom left. Joaquina Perez Portales (46) from La Confianza, a farming cooperative in Colon, north Honduras. In northern Honduras.
Bottom right. Elevlin Floreshen, a community leader from La Confianza, a farming cooperative in Colon, north Honduras. In northern Honduras land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a small number of wealthy business people who bought large tracts of farmland using underhand means. This has left small farmers without land to farm and survive on. Families from La Confianza have settled on a palm tree plantation and are demanding their right to a place to farm, despite intimidation and death threats. Trócaire is supporting the community in its struggle through our partner, Popol Nah Tun. Photos: Jeannie O’Brien.