A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day. Claire Severn meets the young DBers who are here to lend a hand while having fun.
It’s Saturday morning and Discovery Bay International School is alive with the sound of children chatting, eagerly greeting their friends and helping each other adjust their uniforms.
The girls, all aged between seven and 10, are here for a Brownie Guide meeting, and they’re looking forward to another interest-packed couple of hours ahead.
Originally founded in the UK in 1914 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the Brownies are a relatively new addition to DB’s youth activity scene, the resort’s first public unit having launched in September 2018.
Led by DB mums Sharon McEneff (Brown Owl), Kris Fong (Tawny Owl), Wendy Seager (Snowy Owl), Kate Lorenz (Little Owl), Eleanor McColl (Barn Owl) and Bethan Clark (Eagle Owl), the group, officially known as Unit 424A NT, quickly proved popular.
Soon there was a waiting list for places, and so, in January 2019, Unit 424B NT was formed, led by another enthusiastic bunch of DB mums – Gaylene Meeson (Brown Owl), Karen Mason (Hawk Owl) and Burcin Gezer (Fluffy Owl). Again, spaces filled up fast.
The Brownie Programme
Part of the larger global guiding family, the aim of Brownies is to give its young members the opportunity to discover new things and challenge themselves, while supporting each other and the wider community.
The premise – and in fact the format of the meetings – has remained very much the same over the years. “Some aspects of a typical meeting haven’t changed in over a century!” says Bethan, Eagle Owl for Pack A. “We open each meeting by singing the Brownie Song while getting into a ring. We then recite the Brownie Promise and Law, and the sixers [the oldest in each group of six girls, which are all named after fairies or woodland creatures] fill in the log books. To close meetings, we have a pow-wow and then sing the Brownie Bells.”
In between, the girls are engaged in a number of activities based around the eight-point Brownie Programme and the Brownie Promise and Law.
On this particular morning, the two packs are enjoying completely different sessions, demonstrating just how diverse the opportunities for exploration are. Pack A is learning about different faiths with four special guests from the local community, while Pack B is enjoying a good-old-fashioned game of bulldog and taking part in a practical session on road safety.
With each activity, the girls have the opportunity to work towards earning badges in recognition of the skills they’ve learnt. “Getting badges makes you feel you have achieved something,” says Olive Probert, 10, seconder for Pack A’s Sprites. “We do lots of different activities each week – it’s really fun.”
“The kids are keen as mustard to earn their badges,” says Gaylene, Brown Owl for Pack B. “They’re all so enthusiastic. Some of them can be earnt at home by doing things such as making their beds, while others come from taking part in the activities each Saturday. We have a ceremony once a month to give them out.”
Brownies do their best
The range of badges the girls can work towards is extensive and includes everything from cycling and swimming to calligraphy, photography, friendship, crime prevention, cooking and computing, to name just a few.
“It’s very hands on,” adds Bethan. “It’s not about sitting in a classroom and being taught; Brownies provides the girls with non-formal education in a supportive, friendly, all-female environment.”
The girls have certainly been busy over the last few months. “Since setting up Pack A last September, we have learnt knotting, map reading, first aid, skipping and painting,” says Bethan. “We’ve visited the horses in DB North Plaza, taken part in a World Thinking Day event at Hong Kong Girl Guides Association headquarters in Jordan, and travelled to Kadoorie Farm to do our gardening badge. We’ve even introduced the girls to the concept of microfinance. No two meetings are ever the same, which keeps us all on our toes.”
Environmental matters are high on the agenda for DB’s Brownies too. “We recently teamed up with Plastic Free Seas to clear an amazing 52 kilogrammes of plastic from DB North Plaza beach,” says Sharon, Brown Owl for Pack A. “We want the girls to be involved in the community.”
“Being a Brownie means striving to be the best you can be,” continues Bethan. “The important thing is that this is going to be different for every girl. It’s not about being ‘the best,’ it’s about simply trying to be your best self. Brownies try to do a good turn every day.”
Of course, the girls wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the ladies who generously give their time each week to plan and run the meetings. “Each pack is led by Brown Owl, who ensures that everythingis running smoothly,” explains Bethan. “She is supported by a‘parliament’ of owls, who each take on various roles, such as badge administration, meeting planning, communication, website and finances.”
“We’re lucky to have a great group of leaders, who all bring different areas of expertise to the table,” adds Pack A’s Barn Owl Eleanor. “It’s a really interesting thing to do outside of work and family. For me, the best part is seeing the girls grow in confi dence each week and form lasting friendships. It’s great to see the older girls looking after the younger ones, too. The sixes are all made up of mixed age groups, which helps to develop leadership and teamwork skills from a young age.”
The parents are happy, too. Atika Sandham, whose daughter Gabby, 8, is a Pixie in Pack A, says she loves the wholesome, worldly skills that Brownies teaches. “Brownies expands the girls’ minds with things that aren’t in the curriculum,”she says. “It’s a great opportunity for the children. And the best thing is that our daughter can now make us a cup of tea!”
Guides and Happy Bees
Looking ahead to September, the leaders are planning to widen the scope of guiding in DB by launching a Guide company for girls aged 11 to 15, and a Happy Bees hive for those aged four to six.
“Being a Guide is the next step in the adventure,” says Bethan. “Guides have much more autonomy and choice about what they do. Providing a service to the community is a large part of being a Guide, so I am excited to see what plans we come up with in DB.”
And for the younger girls? “The principal aim of Happy Bees is to encourage the girls to develop their independence, teamwork and problem-solving skills. They’ll focus on things like kindness, being environmentally friendly and being happy. They get a sticker in their book after completing each unit – it’s all rather sweet and yet meaningful at the same time, and it’s excellent preparation for moving up to Brownies when they turn seven.”
As the girls gather at the end of the morning for their pow-wow, I think back to my own experience as a Brownie – a Pixie to be precise – all those years ago in the UK. So much is familiar – the uniform, the salute, the sense of belonging, and I smile at the fact that DB children have the opportunity to be part of such a long-lasting, positive movement.