Wednesday 10 June 2015

Girlguiding International: Ecuador 2015

About a year ago in spring 2014, I attended the Girlguiding region leader selection for International projects.  It wasn’t the first time I had been, but in previous years, I had been a member of the team running the day, and making the selection.  This time, I was there with the aim of being selected and hoping that I would be lucky.

Fortune was indeed on my side and I was really excited to be asked to be one of two leaders on my first choice project, at the helm of a team of ten 18-26 year old participants.  This might sound like an unusual age-group to take on a trip as every single member of the team is an adult. But actually I think it’s important to provide opportunities for this group: for students and young professionals, for women who have the potential to be the future leaders and who will gain a massive amount of experience from the project. And I know their own units will benefit from the experiences their leaders have, and the girls’ meetings will be enriched. I love that Girlguiding places such importance of the development of its leaders as well as the girls.

Most intriguing of all, the 18-26 project is the one that begins with a completely blank canvas: we can go where we like and do what we like (within reason!) and we have been able to design a project that each member of the team believes has value and into which each person has had input.

A year later, and we have only a couple of months to go until our international project begins. And what a year it’s been! It’s not all been plain sailing: the finances are pretty complicated, booking a tangled series of flights proved a challenge, and then the airline cancelled our reservation because our funds didn’t transfer in time. Of course they didn’t: it was a Sunday. Oh, and they wanted an extra £100 to rebook them. EACH.
We are fundraising the costs for our trip, and to add another £1000 to the budget wasn’t something I was keen to do.
Of course when all this happened, I was abroad in a different time zone, up at 2:00am with 4 hours to contact each member of the team and find out if they would be able to move their lives/ jobs/ exam results/family to accommodate slightly different flight times.
The team are brilliant of course; they shuffled things round, and all is well. We have flights, and we didn't have to pay any extra.

The project we’ve put together is in Ecuador, South America.  We are heading out there at the end of July to spend a couple of weeks volunteering in a community called Las Tolas. Las Tolas is a rural settlement in the Cloud Forest which aims to be self-sustaining, and relies on the support of volunteers to assist on farms, promote local business and work on conservation projects.  Deforestation is a significant problem in Ecuador (which has one of the highest rates of deforestation in South America), but the people of Las Tolas demonstrate that through education and careful planning, communities can exist in support of the land, and thrive. We will be staying with local families and we are very much looking forward to experiencing the Ecuadorian culture, as well as contributing to the development of a community. 

We will be helping to carry out the daily running of the farms (I have been promised that I can learn to milk a cow!), clearing and maintaining forest pathways, working in the plant nursery which produces essential crops and trying our hand at any projects the community is currently running.

For our remaining time in Ecuador, we hope to experience some of the landscapes and sights of the country; we will have a couple of days to acclimatise in the capital city of Quito before our project, and once we've completed our volunteering, we are going to spend a few days in Puerto Lopez.  Puerto Lopez is a small town on the coast, and we hope to be able to observe some of Ecuador's incredible wildlife.  Ecuador is one of only 17 countries in the world described as 'biodiverse' which means there is a huge range of different plant and animal species.  We are hoping to spot whales off the coast, and encounter a variety of creatures as we visit the Isla de la Plata, a small island affectionately known as the Poor Man's Galapagos. 

We intend to pack lots of excitement into the few free days we have at the end of the project, and we're excited about the prospect of zip-lining over the forest canopy in the Cloud forest, and relaxing in natural thermal pools in the volcanic mountains outside Quito.

We have also been in contact with the Ecuadorian Girl Scouts to arrange a meeting! We’re particularly excited for this part of our trip as it’s what makes Guiding International trips really special. I love sharing and swapping Guiding stories, ideas and traditions, and I am always struck by how amazing it is to travel half way around the world into a completely different culture and still find women doing the same thing you do.

Plus we might be able to swap some badges!

As an end to our project, we will pay a visit to the Equator and we have decided to each renew our promise.  It seemed like a lovely and meaningful way to round off what I'm sure will be an amazing adventure.

So I have high hopes for our trip, and it’s been a real pleasure working with the team and getting to know them. Together we have prepared an itinerary, hiked through the night in fluorescent-pink neckers, stuck post-it notes with Spanish vocabulary on everything, eaten a phenomenal number of biscuits (they help the planning process), assessed risks, designed a badge and activity pack for our units, battled through fundraising tasks and finances and all in all, come through still smiling. And I think we have a selfie to document every step of the process so far, thanks to Rachel's well-timed acquisition of a selfie stick!
I can't wait to see what this adventure will bring!

Kisses xxx
P.S. I am still fundraising the money, and if are able to, or interested in supporting this project, I am collecting donations through my just givingpage here.

P.P.S. We are selling badges too – if you’re interested in purchasing a set (or even just one!) send me an email to kirsty dot merran at googlemail dot com and I can send you the free activity pack and further information.

P.P.P.S. This blog post is part of an ongoing series all about the wonderful world of Girlguiding.  You can find out more in some of the posts below:

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