GOLD 2013 Project
Guiding Overseas Linked with Development in the Cook Islands
In October 2013 I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the young adults to attend the GOLD Project in the Cook Islands. The GOLD Project is a partnership program between two or more WAGGGS countries. The Cook Islands project was organized by the New Zealand and Australian Girl Guides with each country sending three young adults to participate in the project.
When I heard of this opportunity available to me, I just had to do it. Having a passion working with two youth units in Victoria and seeing how much I influence their lives, I had to apply. Not knowing much about the Cook Islands Girl Guides I started researching their program, history, promise and law and general facts about their country. I quickly found there wasn’t a heap of information available. Why was this? How big is their membership? Do they have access to the internet? Why don’t they have their own website like Australia and New Zealand?
I just had to learn more. I contacted a few Australian members who had been on the first year of the GOLD Project in the Cook Islands and realized their biggest issue was their membership. With just over 600 members spanning over their fifteen small islands their movement was in need of help. I looked back to my own Guiding experiences as a new Leader and remembered taking on a unit with only six girls. I quickly made changes to the program and in less than half a year I had increased my unit numbers to thirty-six girls. So how could I do the same in the Cook Islands?
I was in regular contact with the other Australian representatives and we put together a book of resources to take with us. Major factors to consider was the availability of equipment in the Cook Islands. I was informed that the girls paid a membership fee of $1.00 to the movement and $1.00 to their unit for the entire year. With that in mind we gathered as many program ideas that required little to no equipment. I was also informed that all the sections met on the same night in the same hall all at the same time. Most of the time the Guides all did the same activities together with a disregard to the developmental learning stages of their members.
After our arrival we were greeted by a few small Brownie eyes peeping around the corner of the stairwell wondering who we were and what sort of things we had planned. At first all the youth members were shy and didn’t really engage in conversation other than a quick “kia orana” (Hello). But that was about to change! What better way to open people up than to play some silly get to know you games. Some big hits were ‘human knots’ ‘evolution’ and ‘bang’.
Over the following days we attended a national camp and ran many workshops for the Cook Island Guides. We made an effort to separate their members in to their separate sections and run age appropriate activities. The Brownies had time to work with their Leaders to complete traditional badge work from leaf weaving, shell necklace making and preparing fruit platters for their food badge. The main comments we received from the girls was “Wow this is heaps of fun” or “I like this activities because they are aged for us not the Brownies like normal”. After each session we provided the Guides and Leaders with worksheets on the activities we ran. Some Leaders even brought small notebooks and were asking additional questions or practicing what we had just taught during breaks.
Two memorable events for myself was when the Guides, Rangers and GOLD Team went on the over island hike and the overnight survivor training on the Motu (small island).
The over Island hike took over 5hrs to complete. At first the terrain was a dirt path but quickly turned in to a rainforest environment with tree roots, ferns, river crossings and steep inclines and declines requiring holding on to anything and everything to safely manoeuvre the track. Here was the GOLD Team looking silly slipping and sliding all over the place in their sturdy hiking footwear to then look around and see the Cook Island Guides in bare feet or a flimsy pair of flip flops. The hike taught the girls how to hike as a team, use teamwork to cross the rivers, encourage others to give it a go and to also have some fun in a safe environment.
The overnight survivor training was an amazing experience. We were shipped across the lagoon in a local boat to a small island called a motu. As soon as we jumped off the boat the Guides as young as twelve were handed giant machetes by their leaders. My first thought was “Oh my goodness how are we going to risk manage this!!!” But the culture of the Cook Islands quickly taught me that this is normal and these young girls have been using these giant blades since before they began school. Our ration packs included a few tins of corned beef, rice and 2minute Maggi noodles. Anything else we wanted we had to find on the motu.
Our days were spent in the water with the GOLD team organizing relay races, beach ball games and then a human pyramid competition. The night was spent singing and playing campfire games around a large bonfire on the sandy beach. The following morning we assisted untangling a turtle from a fishing net and releasing it back in to the lagoon. Some Guides informed me that the turtles are protected but unfortunately people on the islands still catch them and eat them. I was also taught that in Cook Island mythology the Onu (turtle) is a sacred animal that acts as a guide or leader to those lost at sea.
Although the official camp had wrapped up, the GOLD team still had some duties to attend to. We were interviewed by the local radio show and television network and attended a private function at Government house. Photos of our experiences and outings were also published in the local newspapers and posted on multiple webpages. It was a great feeling walking down the street wearing a GOLD team t-shirt and having the locals stop you to say they saw us on TV and are going to enrol their daughters in their local Guide units.
The GOLD Project was an amazing experience to be part of. I’ve made amazing friendships from three WAGGGS countries, learnt about the culture and history of a beautiful country and I have a feeling of pride knowing I have made a difference. I would like to thank Girl Guides Australia for giving me this opportunity and would encourage anyone looking at overseas opportunities to apply because you too can make a difference.