As COVID restrictions continue to be relaxed, the Bahamas Girl Guides Association (BGGA) is anticipating a return to in-person meetings and will host a guides leaders reception for volunteers to inform them of the new DREAM program and developments at Camp Discovery awaiting Sunflowers, Brownies, Guides and Rangers and update on the progress of the new headquarters building and the Girls Empowerment Centre.
Dr. Ruth Sumner, BGGA president, and Leja Burrows, chief commissioner, will address leaders at the Return to Guiding reception on Tuesday at The Balmoral Club and the value of Guiding to the sound development of girls who are dedicated, respectful, enthusiastic, adventurous and motivated – the goal of their DREAM program, a cross-cutting for the four sections, or age groups. While the wording is age-appropriate, the six themes of the program that girls are immersed in are wellness and safety, personal development and leadership, creativity and innovation, community and global awareness, care for the environment and outdoor living.
Sunflowers are girls five to seven years old; Brownies are ages seven to 10; Guides are 10 to 14 years old; and Rangers are girls 14 to 18 years old. Leaders are young women 19 years and beyond.
As the association prepares to return to some sense of normalcy after lockdowns and curfews in the height of the pandemic, the BGGA was able to see growth in its Ranger Guides division by more than 100 percent, according to Louise Barry, assistant chief commissioner, trainer, and chair of the program’s committee.
Rangers were invested as full members in ceremonies around The Bahamas, despite the odds. BGGA officials said the virtual modality led to the establishment of Ranger groups in Crooked Island, Ranger and Guide groups in San Salvador, North Long Island, and North, Central and South Eleuthera.
The existing groups in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Exuma, they say, expanded their numbers while several of the displaced Rangers in Abaco met virtually with their sisters in Abaco/New Providence.
During the height of the pandemic, Ranger and Guide groups embraced the World Thinking Day program which they say enabled the diligent young ladies to obtain a badge upon completion.
A forum was created for the further development of leadership in the older girls, with the start of a Ranger Council comprising a representative from each of the Ranger groups. The Ranger Council assumed responsibility for planning a variety of interesting projects, met virtually and bonded as a group, and met their counterparts in the Caribbean, according to Barry.
“Their Advocacy for Climate Change is most commendable,” said Elma Garraway, assistant chief commissioner.
Two major objectives were achieved at completion of the Granger Nature Trail and the establishment of the Native Plant Reserve and Bush Medicine Garden at Camp Discovery.
“With the support of two grants from the First Bank and Trust Charities, the Global Environment Fund (GEF), we are poised to be a change agent to address the general lack of understanding about Climate Change and the role each of us can play through behavioral changes that are necessary for sustainable living. Through challenges related to the environment created at Camp Discovery, it is expected that it will serve as a new impetus for the growth of Guiding in The Bahamas. With the assistance of Rotary Club of Nassau, it is expected that we will offer educational tours to interested groups in the future. The major parts of our operation that we missed during the pandemic – on New Providence, the fixed annual activities when girls meet in larger groups [district, division or association levels] camping and pack holidays; parades for special occasions; district awards ceremonies, in-person training for leaders; large scale cookie sales and other annual fundraising events.
While the Rangers enjoyed growth, officials said the pandemic took a toll on Girl Guides packs and units which remained operable on a virtual platform. They said several groups, especially those sponsored by the churches, were inventive with their meetings, including engaging in virtual pack holidays, virtual tea parties, a virtual promise ceremony, and participation in activities at Camp Discovery.
During the pandemic, BGGA held its regular Christmas Carol Service, its annual Guide Week activities inclusive of the church service, cookie week, annual council and annual general meetings and trainings.
“We adapted quickly and learned how to use Zoom; and with the expertise of one of our district commissioners, Quetell Moncur, we celebrated our events as true all-Bahamian activities. Nassau-centric activities no longer exist,” said Garraway.
Through a unique, value-based non-formal educational approach, Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting creates empowering youth learning experiences. This is defined by everything that a young person experiences as a Girl Guide or Girl Scout over time they take part in the youth program. While participating in the Guide program may not be a panacea for the many challenges facing girls, the success of the many women who have been Girl Guides attests to its role in helping them to become the best version of themselves.
“They show that Guiding makes better girls and women,” said Garraway.
She said the informal education movement seeks to ensure that its members become leaders and active citizens of their local community, nationally and internationally.
“Guiding is important for girls and young women for several major reasons,” Garraway added. “Our leaders incorporate these reasons as much as possible in every meeting and activity. These are referred to as the essential elements of Guiding, which make Guiding and Scouting distinct from other youth organizations. Girls and leaders make a promise of doing their best to serve God, country and others, in addition to living by a specific moral and ethical code embedded in the 10 parts of the Guide law; thus, the early development of commitment, loyalty, citizenship and being disciplined in one’s actions. The attainment of these principles are carried out in small groups to ensure the development of belonging needs through the formation of a sisterhood, relationship formation of a girl with another adult, opportunities for leadership, learning through fun and active participation in a variety of challenging activities, especially through camping; and they learn to govern themselves and take responsibility for their decisions.”
Based on training sessions from World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), BGGA developed guidelines for operation during the pandemic, said Barry. She noted that as restrictions are reduced, their guidelines are specific to outdoor meetings, then indoor meetings.
“Unfortunately, in some Family Island schools that operate on a hybrid model, it has become difficult to switch to face-to-face meetings as girls attend school on different days. Hence, virtual meetings continue to be the main mode for them with occasional brief meetings,” she said.
BGGA is a member of the 10 million strong WAGGGS, the largest voluntary movement dedicated to girls and young women worldwide, and supports girls and young women in more than 152 countries to develop to their full potential intellectually, morally, spiritually and physically.
“The girls learn to be good citizens by keeping the Guide promise and law and actively participate in service projects both large and small,” said Garraway. “They learn how to plan, accept challenges and strive to attain group and personal goals through the attainment of badges and awards. They learn critical thinking and empowerment skills, how to be strong advocates and use their voices to address local and global issues affecting girls and young women – and they learn how to lead moral and disciplined lives as noted in the law.”
Garraway said a Guide is self-controlled in all she thinks, says and does.
BGGA leadership is also looking forward to the day they can utilize their new headquarters which Garraway said is more than 75 percent complete through the ground and first floors.
Interior partitions, ceilings, tiles, rough plumbing and basic electrical installation are underway. Their greatest needs are the provision of an elevator, and the completion of the second floor which contains the dormitory and facilities for accommodation of groups, furniture and landscaping.
It was in 2013 that BGGA announced a fundraising initiative to raise funds for construction of a new headquarters with a $1.2 million price tag, with an additional $300,000 required for furniture and equipment. They had hoped that the new edifice would have been completed to commemorate the organization’s 100-year anniversary in 2015 and replace the tiny building at the corner of Marus Bethel Drive and West Bay Street, at the foot of Fort Charlotte, which they have outgrown.
Guiding came to The Bahamas in 1915, just five years after it was founded by Lady and Lord Baden Powell of England, providing developmental experiences for the girls and young women of The Bahamas for over 106 years.