Who have you connected with?

WAGGGS event in Oman in December 2015

If, like me, you spend any time at all on social media, then I don’t think you can have failed to notice the waterfall of guiding-related posts, tweets and photos that have appeared about connecting. If, somehow, you did miss it, then let me fill you in. The theme for this year’s World Thinking Day was “Connect!”

WAGGGS – the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts – produced a brilliant activity pack with lots of different activities, and our Brownies, just like many of yours and many of the girls and young women around the world, joined in with enthusiasm to gain their Connect! badge, and celebrate World Thinking Day.
whytock2This World Thinking Day, with these specific activities encouraging our members around the world to connect with themselves, their friends, their world and WAGGGS, finally gave me an opportunity to take a moment out of my busy life, and reflect on my own opportunities to connect: the opportunities that guiding has given me to connect with myself, my friends, my world and my WAGGGS family.

I’ve been a member of guiding since I was seven years old, and guiding has been teaching me to connect with myself since day one. That’s almost 30 years of learning about who I am, learning about – and pushing – my limits, growing, and connecting with those parts of me that I thought didn’t exist or were buried. Guiding connected me with my bravery, my spirit of adventure and my love of travel. Guiding has also given me more friends than I know how to count, here in Poynton, and near and far. Wherever I’ve been, wherever I’ve lived, wherever I’ve travelled, I’ve had guiding friends to share my journey, and show me the world.
Guiding also gave me the opportunity to develop in my chosen profession. I work as a translator and interpreter, and provide language tuition, in French, Spanish and Russian. WAGGGS events gave me an opportunity to use the skills I was learning as a student, and then gave me amazing opportunities to include on my CV as I was starting out in my career. I’ve now been running my own business for 10 years, and I work for WAGGGS professionally as a translator and interpreter – which led to me running the volunteer interpreting team at the 35th WAGGGS World Conference in Hong Kong in 2014. I really thought I’d reached the top with that event…

…and then something unexpected happened.

whytock6A connection I made during that World Conference led to a phone call, and that phone call led to a new challenge. A colleague at WAGGGS invited me to work on the planning team for the very first Girl Guide and Girl Scout Experience Forum, which was going to take place in Oman in December.
The first thing I did was look up where Oman was! The second thing I did was think about what I knew about the Girl Experience; and I realised that guiding, over the years, had taught me a great deal. I love nothing more than working with my Brownies every week. The Girl Experience is – or should be – at the centre of everything we do. Their experience should make them want to come back every week and tell all their friends about what they’re up to! But their experience should also challenge them and encourage them to always be more than they thought they could be.

whytock4The idea of the Girl Guide and Girl Scout Experience Forum was to bring together leaders from Guide Associations all around the world who run or develop programmes, and for the first time, encourage them to share their own successes, their challenges and their failures. Everyone in the room was there both to teach, and to learn. It was a new but inspired method, to take away the idea of the World Association as teachers and leaders, and to open everyone to the possibility of learning from others who might come from a very different background – economically, culturally or socially.
In addition to all the things I learned about Arabic culture, and even a few words in the Arabic language; and apart from the things I learned about myself in terms of crisis management, facilitation and training skills, and mentoring skills… the most important thing I have taken to heart from my week in Oman is that everyone I meet has something to teach me. There is no one in the world who doesn’t have something to say, and no one from whom I cannot learn.
whytock5Putting aside my personal inspiring moments, it was awesome to watch these delegates, some as young as 19, stand up in front of a room of 100 of their peers and talk about the things that inspire them in their roles, and the programmes that they are delivering. And with twenty themed sessions over the course of the week, each led by one or two Member Organisations, there really was something for everyone.
whytock8Clementine, a leader from Rwanda, said to me that she didn’t think she could deliver a session in English, as French was her mother tongue. And yet hours later, she was inspiring every single person in the room with the Senior Section programme in Rwanda, explaining how their girls choose the activities and topics that they’re going to work on, and just how involved they are in leadership and community action. Silvia, a young adult leader from Panama, had been selected to be at the Forum on the basis of her involvement in youth empowerment, and encouraged us to think outside the box about how to involve our Young Leaders and younger adult Leaders not only in running units, but also in regional or national decision-making.

Even as a member of the planning team and not a participant, I came away challenged about how I’m going to encourage my sixers to grow in their leadership role; about how we choose our programme; and about what my Brownies can learn from other Brownies around the world.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with WAGGGS to help to plan and run this event, and I’m grateful to Cheshire Border for the support I received to be able to do so. And I’m even more grateful to my girls, who challenge me every week to connect with myself, and connect with them, and to be the best Owl that I can be.

Jo Whytock, Tawny Owl at 8th Poynton Brownies