Girls Can in the Caribbean

Where’s Aruba? Sophie tells us about how her trip to the Caribbean island with GOLD kick started new adventures back home

Aruba reminded me that guiding volunteers are the people that are changing the world one person and one project at a time.

When I first heard about GOLD (Guiding Overseas Linked with Development) I’d only been involved in Girlguiding for two years. I knew little about the wider organisation but was immediately keen to find out more, and I submitted an application to Go for GOLD.

I was accepted to attend a challenging and immensely exciting weekend in Hednesford and this is where I discovered what GOLD is - a three to four week overseas project that works to support guiding and local communities.

I felt a little intimidated by the girls who had been involved with guiding from a young age, and convinced myself that Go for GOLD would be as far as I would get. Then, in December 2015, I received an email telling me that I had been selected to form part of a team that would travel to Aruba in the Caribbean!

My first reaction was to squeal excitedly and look on Google maps to see where Aruba actually is…

Myself and five other girls from around the UK began a journey spanning over a year of preparation, delivery and evaluation. Before I knew it, I was spending the night at Pax Lodge before flying out to begin our project in August 2016.

Some GOLD projects sleep on the floor with no access to a shower for weeks, so when we arrived at our beach chalet in the heart of the Aruban community we felt incredibly fortunate!

Aruba was HOT - at times we were training outdoors in 38 degree heat with mysteriously-flavoured ice pops as our only relief. Living with our pelican, cactus and electric blue lizard neighbours was all part of our GOLD experience.

We had a very busy schedule

On our first weekend we created and ran a seven station empowerment activity for 75 Padvindsters (Aruban Girl Guides). It took an immense amount of work but impacted the girls - and us - so much more than we could have expected.

We included stations to capture ‘Mountain Top Moments’, recorded a ‘Girls Can’ video clip and we discussed their dreams and aspirations. There is so much that I will never forget about my experience in Aruba, but here are four of the most powerful memories.

1. Every girl needs someone to ask them about their hopes, fears and dreams

We asked the girls to name things they had been told they couldn't do and they listed playing football, boxing and becoming a police officer.

We were then told by the girls that women cannot legally become firefighters in Aruba. Growing up is difficult for every girl for different reasons, but guiding can be a big part in supporting girls through each step of the journey.

 2. Guiding genuinely has the power to change the way girls think about themselves

We celebrated the girls’ ‘Mountain Top Moments’, learned about their aspirations and encouraged them to question what phrases like ‘run like a girl’ and ‘fight like a girl’ imply for women.

After our sessions, the girls’ parents came to find us and told us that the girls had said our activities made them think more than anything they’d done before.

The environment we create for girls in our ultra-local settings across the world can have a transformative impact that is so much greater than we might perceive it to be.

3. Volunteers are superheroes, wherever they are in the world

Sometimes it can be easy to take for granted what we do as volunteers, particularly when we are surrounded by inspiring and dedicated women on a weekly basis.

Aruba reminded me that volunteers are the people that are changing the world one person and one project at a time. We’re busy mothers, successful business women, and students - all giving up precious snippets of time to build something positive for others.

Although many aspects of our day-to-day life were different, the amount of commitments we juggled with a smile was something that we all shared as women in guiding.

4. As Leaders we must never forget to keep boosting our own self-esteem

It is our constant personal growth that allows us to be incredible role models for young women and girls around the world.

During the trip I drove a seven-seater car on the other side of the road, was interviewed for Aruban national news and I ran a training session that was attended by the Vice President of Aruba! Guiding offers so many opportunities for us to challenge ourselves and - in taking them on - we remind ourselves of the importance of embedding a spirit of fun and adventure into our everyday unit activities.

GOLD gave me courage I didn’t know I needed

My GOLD journey has now come to an end, but the legacy of my adventure lies in the development of guiding in Aruba and the way that it has become a catalyst for change in my own life.

Since GOLD, I’ve completely changed my career, I’ve become an International Advisor for Hertfordshire, I’m about to become a Trustee for a youth charity and I’ve completely fallen in love with the global support network that is Girlguiding. 

Learn more about GOLD

You could be having the trip of a lifetime like Sophie did! Find out more about GOLD and how to apply.