Goolbai Gunasekara wonders how relevant Girl Guiding is today

Principals in the 1940s and ’50s needed something that is useful to occupy scores of restless pupils once they had reached that difficult age of 13. So when we were around 12, our teachers dangled the Girl Guide movement in front of us – and unlike in modern times, there was a bevy of enthusiastic volunteers.

Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s desire to give youngsters in his country something useful and practical to do with their time resulted in a then local movement that grew to be a worldwide affair. And it also resulted in untold benefits for many youth across the globe.

But how useful is it in this day and age? Is such a movement relevant to the needs of teenagers? Has it outlived its usefulness?

I speak mainly of girls since I have little knowledge of boys’ attitudes towards scouting these days. Most of us girls were already Brownies, which was the term for today’s ‘Little Friends,’ by the time we were eight. So the extended activity was known and popular.

But I’ve realised that today’s students don’t have the same interest in Girl Guiding that my contemporaries and I had. When I tried to start Girl Guides at the international school where I was the principal, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. For one thing, it was extremely difficult to get anyone to conduct this particular extracurricular activity.

In the past, principals could usually find a trained volunteer on the existing staff of the school; but not any longer. A trained person (not necessarily on the staff) is essential and such beings are hard to come by.

I don’t have statistics as to the number of students who are in the Girl Guide movement today or how many new recruits are enrolled each year. Given the increasing population, I’d assume that the numbers grow annually. Yet, I must confess that although I tried hard to get this started at school, I also understood why kids thought it a waste of time.

For one thing, those tuition classes take up all leisure time. Sports can be time-consuming too. Then the content of what Girl Guiding taught each week wasn’t particularly interesting. These are days of immediacy. One doesn’t really need to know how to tie knots, give a little first aid or deal with minor emergencies in the home and myriad other useful tips, which made life easier at the time.

The Girl Guide motto was ‘Be Prepared’ – and a better motto I have yet to find. All my life, I have followed it.

Of course, being prepared meant that I carried two of everything when packing to travel overseas – even on short trips away from the island. Two pairs of black shoes, two white pairs, two pairs of sandals and duplicates of everything else were part of my regular luggage. I expected heels to come off and straps to break.

The added luggage weight was a nuisance, of course. Also, these emergencies never happened in Colombo but I was prepared for any accident that might take place once I’d left the safety of my home.

Being prepared meant I carried Panadol, Cicatrin powder, plasters and other quick fixes in my handbag at all times. I can’t truthfully say I ever needed my backups but the feeling of security was great.

However, the world of technology today has channelled children’s interests along different lines. Learning new uses of the computer and honing their IT skills seem far more valuable than a wasted (in their view) afternoon of Girl Guiding. A pleasant afternoon learning practical skills is no longer considered necessary. Such skills are picked up along the way so to speak.

But the fact remains that youngsters of today are woefully backward when it comes to little things like sewing on buttons, for example.

They can’t even thread a needle. They don’t need to darn anything. Torn socks and underwear are thrown away. Who has the time I ask rhetorically, to sit and mend things? Replacements are so much quicker. And time is valuable.

In my final year as a Girl Guide, I was studying for the Queen’s Badge, which is the President’s Badge of today. I couldn’t complete it because camping out alone was mandatory. By the time my teachers contacted the UK and got the rule changed to allow camping in the garden of the Girl Guide Headquarters, I had reached the age of 16 and was no longer eligible for the badge.

Camping out would have meant lighting a fire made out of wood and shavings. Actually, I was able to do it; but I must admit there’s never been an occasion where I needed to do so. A flick of a switch and the basics are accomplished.

So I have to ask – has Girl Guiding outlived its usefulness given the attitudes and lifestyles of today’s teenagers?

Regretfully, I think it has. Girl Guiding was great fun but its activities are no longer relevant in the life of a teenager today.

Of course, I am open to correction.