ple question your packing methods, but you never know when you might need space leggings for a theme day.
I first learned the song “Change the World” on my eleventh birthday. I loved the song when I was a kid, but as I got older I was overtaken by cynicism and I grew to resent it. In my country there might be “sisters of every color”, but a lot of them couldn’t afford to be Girl Scouts. It might be that “In Girl Guiding we have so much to give/ To our sisters around the world who are struggling just to live,” but as far as I could see the best things we had to give to them were goofy songs and expensive cookies. Don’t get me wrong, I love Girl Scout cookies and I especially love Girl Scout songs, but I just didn’t see how we were changing the world with those things. Even so, Girl Scouting was a family to me, and I decided to expand that family by going to Sangam, the World Centre in India run by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). At Sangam, we sang “Change the World” all the time. More than that, we talked about changing the world all the time like it was a real thing! The idea that it is possible to change the world was my biggest source of culture shock when I came to Sangam. My co-workers were throwing around words like “Millennium Development Goals” and “advocacy”, and I was intimidated. I felt horribly pessimistic. “How will I ever be a proper Sangam Volunteer if I don’t even believe that I have the power to change things?” I asked myself. This is the story of how I came to love singing “Change the World” again.
Sangam is one of four (soon to be five) World Centres operated by WAGGGS. It is a place for Guides and Scouts from all over the world to come together, and its name means “coming together” in Sanskrit. Visiting Sangam is a way to meet and learn from Guides and Scouts from other countries and a way to discover India. As a four-month Sangam Volunteer, my role was to help run programmes that educate people about WAGGGS, Sangam, and India. To be a Sangam volunteer, you have to be 21 years of age, enthusiastic, and willing to work hard. We always joke that part of our contract is being willing to perform “other duties as required,” which could mean anything from taking creative photographs to sorting the books in the library to helping confused old ladies catch rickshaws. In every event we give our participants the chance to learn about WAGGGS and its themes and projects, discover the history and opportunities at Sangam, explore Indian culture, and visit one of our NGO Community Partners to find out how people are working to change things here in India.
While I was at Sangam, I had the opportunity to work on several different types of event. My first event, in November-December 2011 was a seminar about the HIV/AIDS epidemic around the world. Participants from eleven countries shared their experiences with each other, and on December 1st we joined a World AIDS Day march sponsored by Wake Up Pune, one of our Community Partners.
During the winter holidays, we ran an event called “Discover Your Potential”. Aimed at teenage girls, the programme tried to help participants find out about themselves and the change they want to be in the world. They worked on teaching and building improvement projects at various community partners, and the exposure to India obviously opened their minds a lot.
There were two “Essence of India” events during my time at Sangam. These were exactly what they sound like- trying to cram as much Indian culture, cuisine, and on-the-ground experience as possible into a few days. The first of these events we ran was for our future Tare, the international volunteers who stay at Sangam and work in the community. The second was for a group of ladies mostly from the United States, and we had fun comparing and contrasting India with home. At the second event, we celebrated Holi, the Indian festival of color.
I had the great fortune to visit Sangam during the WAGGGS centenary celebrations, and one of the events I helped with was even called “Celebrate Our Centenary”. It was during this event that we observed World Thinking Day, a Girl Scout/Guide holiday devoted to international understanding. The World Thinking Day 2012 theme is to promote environmental sustainability, and I contributed to this goal using my tested-and-true Girl Scout song knowledge from camp at home. I stood up in front of the 300 Indian Scouts and Guides who came to visit and sang to them “The alligator is my friend. He can be your friend too. I’d rather have him as my friend than cook him in a stew!” It was silly, but I like to think it got everyone thinking about the environment.
My last event at Sangam, like my first, was a seminar. This one was put on by the WAGGGS Leadership Development Programme, and was also about the environment. It was called “Young Women Leading for a Greener Future”, and as a volunteer I supported the planning team that put the event together.
One of the big projects I worked on as a volunteer was the WAGGGS consultation called “The World We Want for our Future.” To prepare for its delegation at Rio+ 20, WAGGGS asked young people what kind of world they would like to live in when they grow up and what positive changes we should be making to ensure that such a world is possible. In the consultation we asked young people to think about their future selves and how they would interact with the world. We educated about the MDGs and asked what else is important for our future that isn’t covered in the UN’s current goals. We asked if young people can see the climate changing and what they think we need to protect the most. I was able to run the consultation with Sangam residents and with the Nivedita Guides, the Indian Guiding unit that meets at Sangam. I also promoted the campaign both online and in person to various event guests in hopes that they would take the consultation home with them and run it with their own groups. It was exciting to work on a project that is definitely going to affect something BIG in the world. Not only was I contributing to something that will affect a UN conference, I was also educating people about environmental issues along the way.
At Sangam I was able to meet and befriend people from over fifty countries. It was a truly life-changing experience, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work there for four and a half months. If you want to visit Sangam, you can do so as an Event Participant, an Intern or Sangam Volunteer (like me), a Tare (volunteer in the community), or an Independent Guest. No matter how long or short your visit, I feel sure that you will love the trip and perhaps even feel as changed by it as I have. I am taking away from my experience a closer connection to WAGGGS and Girl Scouting, international friendships, job experience in the “real” world, and a less cynical outlook on life.
Before I came to Sangam my main experience of Girl Scouting was at summer camp. Sure, I might have been teaching people about important things in my own little corner of the world, but I didn’t really see how that fit into the big picture. Helping young women to develop leadership skills and teaching girls about their natural surroundings are definitely important, but I didn’t feel like I was changing the WORLD. It’s overwhelming to think about trying to change things at all, and even more overwhelming to think about changing things everywhere. Reading about the Millennium Development Goals and trying to imagine how to “promote gender equality and empower women” or “ensure environmental sustainability” everywhere is enough to intimidate anyone. What I didn’t realize is that when I train girls to become leaders or give people a greater understanding of and appreciation for the environment, I am changing the world. No one is asking that I create “The World We Want for our Future” by myself, just that I do my part and spread the word to others. Sangam has helped me realize what the song is really about- “In the Girl Scouts together, we change the world.”
I’ll admit it- I was a little hurt when I recently wrote a blog post for Global Conversations, a new collaborative project put together by Girl Guiding UK and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, only to have it edited without my knowledge or consent. It turned out okay in the final version, but it’s not the same post I originally wrote. So, in the spirit of having my say, here is the post I intended to write. I hope you like it!
Be a Sister to Every Girl Scout
On learning respect in WAGGGS
When I was twelve years old, my mixed age Girl Scout troop went winter camping. We slept in the lodge at Timbercrest, our council’s camp in Western New York, but we spent most of our time outside playing in the snow. One morning, I had the opportunity to help teach cross country skiing to the younger members of my troop. I wasn’t the most confident instructor at the beginning, but by the end of the trail I felt proud not only of my abilities as a skier, but of my abilities as a teacher as well. I was surprised by how easy it was for me to figure out what the younger girls were doing wrong and how to tell them to fix it.
After a long morning of teaching, I was ready for something different. My fellow Cadette Girl Scouts and I decided to go sledding. As we started getting ready, the Brownies and Juniors noticed that we were going out and wanted to come along. This was not what we had envisioned. Being twelve, we wanted to hang out with our friends without having to include the “little” kids, and we weren’t afraid to say so. Our troop leader could have let us fight it out or simply ordered us to include everyone, but instead she drew us aside and talked to us about the Girl Scout Law. Two of the tenets of the Girl Scout Law, she reminded us, are to “respect myself and others” and to “be a sister to every Girl Scout.” We were appropriately ashamed, and we let the younger girls join our sledding. When all was said and done, though, we were forced to truly think about Girl Scouts that day and what the Law meant to us.
Ten years later, I am still learning valuable lessons from Girl Scouting. I am currently working a four-month volunteer term at Sangam, the WAGGGS World Centre in India. Here, I see the Guiding Law in practice every day. To think that the original Law stipulated that “a Guide is a friend to all and a sister to every other Guide” is sometimes a bit overwhelming! Do I really have to be a friend to all? Even the rickshaw driver who tried to rip me off yesterday? Even the little girl I watched pull up her skirts and poop right in public on the side of a city road? The Guiding law says I do. Do I have to be a sister to every Girl Scout? Even my roommate who kept me awake the other night because she was chatting online with some friends in Brazil? Yes. Being a Girl Scout means respecting each other enough to put away our gripes and celebrate our differences.
What I respect most, though, is this organization to which I belong. I am proud that WAGGGS aims “to enable girls and young women to develop their fullest potential as responsible citizens of the world”. I am proud that GSUSA “builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.” Responsible citizens who make the world a better place, in my estimation, are people who respect one another.
I have tried to learn a fair few languages in my day. I can’t claim to be totally fluent in any of them, or even especially good at most of them, but I have learned a few things along the way.
In Paris, I learned not to be afraid to ask questions, even if I don’t know how to listen to the answer. Questions I can remember asking in French include “Où sont les toilettes?”, “Où est La Jaconde?”, and “Il y a serviettes?”. Only one of them produced an answer I understood all of, and that was probably because I asked my history teacher, who was indulging me. Nonetheless, I was successful in finding both the bathrooms and the Mona Lisa, and in discovering that there were no napkins available at the fruit stand.
In Costa Rica, I learned that the absolute best way to get languages to stick in your brain is to practice them outside of a classroom environment. I am so, so grateful to my host mother, Maria Eugenia, for encouraging me to practice my Spanish with her. Some of my favorite experiences while there were having conversations that make more sense in Spanish than they do in translation. I remember two such conversations, which I will write here:
1- Maria Fernanda (my seven-year-old host cousin): Emily, tiene usted un novio?
Emily (me)- No, solo amigos.
MF- Pero, tiene amigos guapos?
E- Si, unos!
2- Our guide in Tortugero, who told us a Costa Rican joke: Que tiempo vamos a hacer hoy en Costa Rica? Sol o lluvia! (Es sol o lluvia, no es solo lluvia.)
In India, I have learned not to be afraid to sound like an idiot. I mean that in the best possible way. Sometimes, translating into Hindi is just too complicated for what I know how to say. I might know some of the words, but I don’t know all of them and I’m not sure how to put them together. The point is, though, that it doesn’t matter whether what I say is perfect or not. People are generally pleased to help someone who is showing a genuine effort to learn their language, and in this way, I am able to communicate, even if I sound ridiculous. The other day, for example, I was at a museum and I saw a wall of posters with pictures of deformed body parts. The writing was all in Hindi, so I have no idea what it said, but I guessed that the posters had something to do with leprosy. Instead of being confused about it, I approached the guard nearby, pointed, and said “Ye larka… leprosy ke sath?”, which means “This boy… with leprosy?” I’m not actually sure what the Hindi word for leprosy is, but I guessed that the English one would suffice. As it happens, it did. The guard said yes and responded in Hindi, pointing to his face and shaking his head sadly. I have no idea what he was saying, but at least I know that I was correct in thinking the pictures on the posters were of lepers.
Languages. They’re fun.
I have a confession to make- I love shoes. In a totally girly way. Shoes are useful and pretty, and I have a ton of them. (Note- I once went thirty days without wearing the same pair of shoes twice. I had to borrow some from my mom and sister to make this happen, but still.)
Today, my boyfriend told me I have “a questionable quantity” of shoes. To think about this, I made two lists:
Shoes I Use
(I was going to title this list “Shoes I Need”, but I thought better of it.)
1- hiking boots (Merrell)
2- walking shoes (preferably Merrell)
3- comfortable sandals (Birkenstock)
4- hiking sandals (Teva)
5- snow boots (Sorrel)
6- winter boots- this may sound silly right after the snow boots, but these are ankle-high, which is far more manageable most days than the calf-high snow boots
7- black boots- slightly higher than the ankle, heeled, leather
8- black flats
9- fancy flats- in some color other than black, in case the occasion calls for it
10- fancy sandals
11- shower shoes- generally cheap flip-flops
12- ski boots
(Also, I am a brand snob when it comes to shoes that need to be functional.)
Other Shoes I Have Owned
– flip-flops- nicer looking than my shower shoes, to be used around the house like slippers or for a quick trip out
– Oddline shoes- purple, yellow, or gold shoes worn as part of an outfit designed to support the Oddline team at my alma mater
– more fancy flats
– gym shoes- old sneakers to be worn exclusively at the gym and NOT outside
– sneakers (and faux sneakers)
– heels (occasionally stilettos)
– tall boots- much like the black fashion boots listed above, but taller
– character shoes- heeled leather shoes made for dancing
He may have a point. Still, I will probably always keep at least those thirteen pairs of shoes around the house. Beyond that I find them less necessary but rather joy-inducing.
I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning but I did it anyway, and I was rewarded with one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard in my life: “He sent a thick Darkness over all the Land” from Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”.
^^ It’s the second movement in this video, if you’re interested. But the point isn’t necessarily for you to enjoy it as much as I did.
The point is, I was profoundly moved by this piece. Have you ever found a piece of music (or artwork or writing or something) that resonated with you straight down to your bones? Straight down to your BONES. This music just awoke such strong imagry in me. It’s about the plague of darkness that God sends over Egypt to punish the Pharoh for enslaving the Israelites. Somehow Handel’s oratorio version just made me think about the plague of darkness in a way I never had before. Imagine it- your whole world suddenly plunged into a darkness so black you can’t see a thing. No immeadiate explanation comes to mind. It’s not nighttime. There are no stars, no moon. You stumble around through supposedly familiar places that you can no longer navigate. You can hear the voices of friends and loved ones, but you can’t see them. Maybe you can’t even reach them. It’s a terrifying thought, and Handel portrays it musically so well. All the space. The slow meter. The accidentals. The choir members calling out to one another. Wow.
We listened to several movements from “Israel in Egypt” today, and many of them were quite good. Experimental, innovative, interesting. But “He sent a thick Darkness over all the Land” stood out among them to me as a brilliant, brilliant composition.
Yesterday I was having a conversation with a woman who I’ve been in a few classes with here at Wells. At the end of the conversation I said something like “Well, okay, I’ve got to go to orchestra now” and she said
“Wow, you do a lot.”
What I wanted to say was “Thank you”, but as the words were in my mouth, I realized that “Wow, you do a lot” isn’t actually a compliment. In fact, I’m pretty sure that to someone listening in, her “Wow, you do a lot” would have sounded more like “Are you completely insane?”
It got me to thinking about stress addiction. Earlier this semester, I listened to a friend of mine describe her busy schedule (twenty credits, a part-time job, auditing an art class, a couple of clubs) and I actually felt guilty for not doing enough. Keep in mind, this girl is no longer working that hard because it’s not actually possible for her to do so. But hearing about it, even when I suspected she would eventually relax her commitments a little, was enough to make me jealous.
Here is a list of what I’m doing right now:
15 credits of “real” classes.
5 credits of independent study, choir, and orchestra. Total=20 credits.
Henry’s VIII, a campus a’ cappella group, 6 hours/week.
Work study job, 5 hours/week.
Campus Greens, which I’m a partial member of.
Wow, I do a lot. And sometimes I feel like it ought to be more…
Life is about small pleasures. There are things that I like that are silly, but they make me happy.
The way certain outdoor lights make everyone’s lips look purple at night.
The way the wrapper on a roll of toilet paper crinkles into a ball.
Cold showers on hot days.
A good stretch.
And plenty of other similar things. I appreciate them.
- Be a professional reader-out-louder
- fortune-telling/ mystic healing
- plant a garden and maintain it
- drive across the country in a cool van/ Magical Mystery Tour
- work on a political campaign
- work/ volunteer with a Christian youth group
- be a gypsy
- learn to play snare drums and play them in a parade
- do a juice fast for up to three days
- get into a pattern of yoga, meditation, and organic diet
- perhaps make something of declaiming
- volunteer with a feminist group
- lead a Girl Scout troop
What you know about Thomas Paine:
He was an American colonist just prior to the Revolution who wrote Common Sense along with a few other pro-revolution materials.
What you don’t know about Thomas Paine:
He was born and grew up in England, where he failed at almost everything he tried. First he failed out of school. Then, worked for a time as an apprentice in his father’s corset-making shop, but he failed at that too. For a while he tried being a sailor and a school-teacher, but that didn’t work out so well for him either. Later, Paine became a tax officer, but he was fired from that job not once but twice for embezzeling.
So, after randomly meeting Benjamin Franklin, Paine decided to move to America. There he became a journalist, which actually worked out pretty well for him. His writings were widely read by American colonists, and works like Common Sense played a huge role in the Revolution.
Eventually, Paine returned to England, but there his writing got him into trouble. Considered an enemy of the crown, he escaped arrest by fleeing to France, where he played a part in the begining of the French Revolution. Unfortunately, as was the case with many initial leaders of the Revolution in France, Paine was soon jailed for his beleifs. James Monroe (of the newly formed United States) helped him out of that fix, and he returned to the U.S. on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Sadly enough, some of his more radical ideas had caused the American people to fall out of love with Thomas Paine, and died in New York City in relative isolation in 1809.
This post is largely paraphrased from: http://www.ushistory.org/PAINE/