Thursday, February 2

Guiding light for many young women

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Girl Guide movement still relevant today as it has been over the past 100 years, says commissioner

June (seated, centre) with participants of a course that she facilitated recently at the Selangor branch of Pandu Puteri Guild Trefoil.

THE Girl Guide movement is still relevant today as it has been over the past 100 years, insists June Angking.

In fact, the Girl Guide Association in Malaysia (GGAM)’s national executive board member and the holder of the National Guild Commissioner’s post regards it as a ‘legacy’.

She remembers the fun and the adventure that she had being a Girl Guide.

“I started at the age of four, having been introduced to it by my aunties and sisters – all very good in tying the rope knots and adept in survival skills.

“I always looked forward to tagging along whenever they went for any Girl Guide activity or camping trip. There’s never a dull moment; each experience was a joy.

“The Guiding light was ignited in me as a Brownie, and it continued on when I became a Girl Guide, a Ranger, a Leader, a Guider, and a ‘Guide Mom’ – it still does up till this very day,” she told thesundaypost in Kuching.

June could never have imagined that one day, she would become the very first Iban to be elected to the GGAM’s national executive board. She attributed the recognition to the guidance, inspiration and knowledge from many Guiders whom she had met throughout the years.

June Angking

“In holding my post and being one of the members, there have been many changes and plans taking place, all meant to improve the programme and activities in the Trefoil Guild under the leadership of GGAM’s chief commissioner Dato Jeyadhevi Subramaniam,” she added.

The working committee was able to produce a journal for the Trefoil Guild, so as to make it more accessible to the communities and at the same time, inspire more people to be part of the guild.

The movement did not stop during the Covid-19 pandemic, said June, adding that they were able to coordinate the preparation and delivery of food baskets and pet aid to various communities throughout Malaysia.

“I encourage all women to join GGAM, where the members are global citizens.

“This is an organisation that embodies diversity and strives to contribute to society through volunteerism.

“For myself: ‘Once a Guide, always a Guide’,” she said.

What is Girl Guiding?

June described Girl Guiding as being ‘more than just a school’s co-curricular activity, done to add merits to one’s curriculum vitae’.

“Girl Guiding has everything – from working in and as a team and taking up leadership roles, to speaking out on issues that they care about.

“It involves various age groups, and people from all walks of life,” she elaborated.

According to her, apart from being one of the uniformed movements in schools, there are three other Girl Guiding sub-groups with members doing community services: the ‘Trefoil Guild’, the ‘Clovers’ and the ‘Friends of Girl Guiding’.

Historically, Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting were hailed as among the earlier feminist movements in the world. In 1909, a group of girls appeared at a Boy Scout Rally in the UK declaring themselves to be Girl Scouts. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts, decided that there should be a movement too for girls. Guiding was introduced that same year to respond to the specific needs of girls and young women.

Groups of Girl Guides soon started in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and South Africa.

A year later, the Girl Guide Association was officially established in the UK under the leadership of Agnes Baden-Powell, Lord Baden-Powell’s sister. By 1912, there were also groups in Ireland, Portugal and Norway, and Juliette Low founded Girl Scouting in the USA in 1912.

The First World Conference, held in England in 1920, was a historic occasion that gave representatives of the Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting world the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and experiences. This contributed to not only a heightened and strengthened international scouting and guiding experience, but it also raised the awareness and profile of the movement.

As the movement grew and expanded, country representatives began to feel that it was time to create something more solid and binding, and the idea of forming a world association was proposed after the Fourth World Conference in 1926.

The founder of the movement, Lord Baden-Powell, sought the opinions of all known Girl Guide and Girl Scout organisations and asked them to consider the proposition. Delegates from 26 countries met at the Fifth International Conference in Hungary in 1928, and formed the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), with a World Bureau as its secretariat to be located in London, replacing an advisory body, the International Council created in 1919.

It was decided that the newly-founded WAGGGS would hold elections to determine a World Committee, of which Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, and the director of the World Bureau, would be ex-officio members. International Conferences (now known as World Conferences) take place once every three years and to this day, remain a platform for policy and decision-making for member organisations.

In Malaysia, this movement – known locally as ‘Pandu Puteri’ – was established at the Girls Methodist School in Kuala Lumpur in 1916. A year later, the association was registered with the Girl Guide headquarters in Calcutta, India.

Archive photo shows members of the First Girl Guide Company of the Methodist Girls School in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1957, its administrative centre was relocated from Singapore to Wisma Pandu Puteri in Kuala Lumpur. That same year, GGAM officially became an affiliate of WAGGGS, and as a ‘Tenderfoot’ member in 1960. In 1966, GGAM was wholly accepted as a full member of WAGGGS.

Photo shows the GGAM headquarters, Wisma Pandu Puteri, at Jalan Pantai Baharu in Kuala Lumpur.

It is noteworthy to know that Malaysia is the only country that incorporated the Girl Guides Association under the Parliament Act in 1958. It remains an apolitical, non-governmental and non-profit organisation for women of all ages and backgrounds.

June remarked: “Today, we are proud of being the largest single gender organisation in Malaysia with over 300,000 active members ranging from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, and making it as one of the top 10 organisations under WAGGGS encompassing 152 countries.”

Classification

She added that it was very common to have at least one Girl Guide unit in any public school, college or university, attributing this to the support unitedly received from the GGAM Royal Patron, Her Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, with full backing from the Ministry of Education (MoE).

Representatives of GGAM with their counterparts from Indonesia taking part in the 11th National Jamboree Jamnas 2022 of Gerakan Pramuka Indonesia recently. — Photo from GGAM Facebook

“The Guiding movement has always been proud in accepting members as young as four years old under the pre-school programme, the ‘Pandu Puteri Kelip-Kelip’.

“For those aged between seven and 12, these members are categorised as ‘Pandu Puteri Tunas’, whereas those aged 13 to 17 are the ‘Teen Guides’.

“Those in the upper secondary school group, aged 18 to 19, are the ‘Rangers’.”

However, June said it did not end there, as those having left secondary school could opt to be members of the ‘Clovers’, meant for young women aged 18 to 30 years old.

“They comprise those still undergoing tertiary education, the stay-at-home moms and professionals who want to further develop their leadership skills and give back to society.

“We also have the ‘Cadets’, members who are pursuing training as educators at the IPGs (Teacher Educations Institutes).

“Last but not least, we have our senior Trefoil Guild members, those aged 30 and above.”

Working on the frontline

June said as an active movement, the Girl Guides had been working closely with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government bodies to serve the public.

“We have been working on the frontline – assisting victims of recent floods, delivering food baskets during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, helping the frontliners and other volunteers at the Covid-19 Vaccination Centres (PPVs), and giving aid to owners who were not able to sustain their pets throughout the pandemic.

“Back in the old days, our past ‘Sisters in Guiding’ were among the assistants at the Astana Negeri (official residence of the Head of State), or at the Chief Minister’s residence.

“That was such an interesting experience and those who are still around, can vividly recount many enlightening stories about their time there.

“However, due to reinforced protocols and security concerns, today’s Guides are no longer able to experience that,” she said.

A great movement to be in

June’s recount of her experience in Girl Guiding is very inspiring, and her sentiments are shared by fellow Guides.

Althea Natasha Edwin is one of them, having been with the GGAM for over a decade.

“I have been a Girl Guide since I started secondary school up. It is one of the highlights of my life, giving me beautiful memories, unforgettable experiences, and also the joy of sisterhood.”

Althea attending the Juliette Low Seminar 2019 in the Maldives.

Althea represented Malaysia at the Juliette Low Seminar, one of WAGGGS’ flagship leadership development events for the young people, in the Maldives in 2019.

“Not only I got to meet many inspiring young women from all walks of life, but I also gained so much knowledge on information on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No 5: Gender Equality. I learned more about how gender inequality affected girls and women all around the world, and ways to fight for gender equality using the WAGGGS’ leadership model.

“It was truly an eye-opener,” she said.

Althea said during the pandemic, she had the opportunity to conduct an online workshop on the leadership model revolving around gender equality, together with a number of fellow Sister Guides.

“Such responsibility came with challenges, but with those challenges thrown at me, I was able to unlock and polish several life skills that I never knew I had or needed.

“I was very happy to be able to raise awareness of gender inequality among the people, especially girls and women.

“Ever since then, GGAM has kept on giving me opportunities that I never knew I could have.

“One of it is being a part of the Clovers’ Development Committee, where a group of young leaders join forces to create Guiding programmes for young women aged between 18 and 30.

“Today, the Clover programme is being run in several education institutions, and it is nice to see many young women get to enjoy Girl Guiding like I do,” she said.

For National Girl Guide Clover Commissioner Dr Nor Zafir Md Salleh, she hailed the Guiding community as ‘a pillar of national development, because a prosperous and cohesive community would create close cooperation and promote a harmonious and safe life’.

Dr Nor Zafir Md Salleh

“GGAM helps the community in educating the female youths about social problems such as cyber security awareness and cyberbullying through the ‘Surf Smart’ programme.

“In today’s society, cases of bullying among girls are increasing; thus, the ‘Stop The Violence’ programme aims to make the community aware of the actions that should be taken.

“The ‘Body Awareness’ programme has been implemented since 2013, with the aim to address the growing obsession with body shapes among young people, which could lead to unnecessary, and not to mention risky, plastic surgeries. This programme promotes acceptance of the body.”

Dr Nor Zafir saw her involvement in Girl Guiding had helped sharpen her leadership skills, provided her with many networking opportunities and challenged her abilities and capabilities for them to improve to the next.

“It also helps me practise collective decision-making. GGAM encourages the notions of respecting every individual, making choices according to our own interests, learning in the way that is the best for each person, valuing what we have achieved, collaborating instead of competing, and very simply, being confident,” she said.

Looking ahead

Former GGAM chief commissioner Fatimah Mohamed believes that Girl Guiding today is moving in the right direction.

“Its programmes are geared to the needs of our girls and young women of this era.

“In the past, Girl Guiding provided good values through many outdoor activities and courses. There were very few summits that were held then.

“Still, the movement was popular amongst the girls then because there were too few associations offering challenging activities like GGAM did.

“Today, Girl Guiding provides the platform for girls to be women, and for them to be leaders in their own right.

“Having said that, we can further improve by having more professionals running the association. The national executive board as well as the branch executive boards need a mixture of educators, lawyers, engineers and other professionals so that we can have varied viewpoints when making decisions,” said Fatimah.

Fatimah Mohamed

In this respect, she underlined the National Trainers Council as ‘the pulse of the Guiding scheme’.

Moreover, Fatimah also pushed for Girl Guiding to ‘be in the news more’.

“Unfortunately, we have not been getting the attention, despite recording so many achievements over the past few years.

“We may not be considered a charity organisation, but the amount of work that we have done, albeit subtly, for nation-building have been tremendous,” she said.