Centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association
The Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association (SLGGA) celebrates a century of excellence today. In the past hundred years, it has helped a countless number of people and has empowered young girls and women islandwide.
As the only organisation that works with girls under the age of five, the SLGGA, throughout the years, has not only trained youngsters to be the agents of change, but has also conducted various projects aiding the differently-abled, providing shelter for the homeless, supporting the tsunami victims, educating women on gender based violence and helping them secure employment through training.
Spanning across 146 countries, the Girl Guide Movement was founded by Lord Robert Baden Powell on March 21, 1910, and supported by a staggering 10 million members. In short, it is the largest voluntary organisation for girls and young women in the world.
The movement reached the shores of Lanka in 1917 when Miss Jenny Calverley, a young teacher from England, joined the staff of Girls’ High School, Kandy and started the first Girl Guide Company in the school.
The spirit of Girl Guiding caught on and companies providing such training opened in Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. Girl Guiding quickly spread to the rural areas of the island.
In the span of a hundred years, the Sri Lanka Girl Guides has conducted various community service projects that have impacted society at the grassroot level. The SLGGA has made contributions to the environment and various sectors of society from the differently-abled to the homeless, to those struck with poverty, the uneducated, women in rural villages and much more. Some of these projects are showcased below.
Branch of the differently-abled (1924)
In 1924, the SLGGA opened a branch for the differently-abled after which the girl guides company was established in the School for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana. The branch was officially declared open in 1925. The association has been working with differently-abled girls on school and corporate levels. Girl Guide companies are running in schools including Dhayamina, Nethmithura, Chitra Lane and the School for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana. In recent years, SLGGA has also been working closely with the Labour and Manpower Ministry to provide employment opportunities to their differently-abled members.
Family Life Education and Community Development Project (1978)
The Family Life Education and Community Development Project was carried out in villages in different parts of the country from Galle to Jaffna. The project intends of educating the community in all aspects of health and nutrition, sanitation, immunisation, skills, population awareness and recreation. Girl Guides visited villages where no attention was given on women’s health. They enlightened the villagers on the significance of nutrition for women and children.
Soup kitchens were organised at the end of every workshop. Villagers were spoken to about family planning, proper sanitation and how to appreciate the entire country. Preschools were run in each village. Women were encouraged to start income-generating projects. People were educated on family affairs.
There was marked improvement in the areas of health, income and sanitation. With women working on income generating projects, poverty levels diminished. Workshops continued until the villages were able to be self-sufficient and no longer required SLGGA’s assistance. There were many spinoffs of this project including the slum and shanty upliftment initiative in Wattala and Baladhakshika Gama.
Baladhakshika Gama (1990)
‘Baladhakshika Gama’ was established in 1990 in celebration of the International Year for Shelter for the Homeless in Ganemulla, Kadawatha.
Baladhakshika Gama provided homes to ten impoverished families that were dependent on women, the breadwinners. In addition to housing these families, the women were given training in life skills at the National Training Centre which was opened adjoining the village.
Tsunami Project (2004)
The disaster management committee of the SLGGA was formed after tsunami hit Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004.
The SLGGA renovated, restocked and furnished 14 tsunami affected school libraries in the Southern and Eastern provinces, and established the Tsunami Education Support System (TESS) scholarships for tsunami victims. Food, clothes and other equipment were distributed among pregnant mothers.
Classes were conducted in sewing, embroidery and lace-making to encourage income generation amongst tsunami victims, this included widows. A Child Development Centre was set up in Kudawella, a village in Tangalle that was battered by tsunami.
Environmental Star-Rating Programme (2008)
The SLGGA teamed up with schools, which the Education Ministry labelled as the most ‘eco-friendly’ institutions, to raise awareness amongst schoolchildren on the impact and consequences of global warming.
At the workshops and seminars conducted, students were educated on the measures needed to be taken to reduce the impact of global warming. Key areas that were focused included reduction of energy consumption, conservation of water, planting trees and recycling.
‘Stop the Violence’ Campaign (2011)
The ‘Stop the Violence’Campaign was launched globally by WAGGGS in Edinburgh, Scotland in July 2011 to end all forms of violence against girls and young women.
In Sri Lanka, the SLGGA has conducted various workshops and activities on gender based violence, child abuse and reproductive health, thereby raising awareness on the subject. These included;
’16 days of activism’ conducted in December every year
‘Voices Against Violence’ activities for Girl Guides
‘Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence’ sessions in Colombo and Jaffna
‘Girl Up’ Campaign for schoolchildren launched in collaboration with the Health Ministry in October 2015
Women At Work, Children At School (2014)
The above programme is an ongoing project carried out by the SLGGA in the Matale District with the help of Danish guides, scouts and the NGO ‘WAWCAS International.’
The less privileged women are encouraged to become self-sufficient by providing them with entrepreneurship training and funds to start up individual income-generating projects. The project commenced in early 2014 in two villages in Matale.
Some 32 women have been able to make their families financially stable through micro-financing.
Renula, whose husband was an alcoholic, rented and renovated a small store with the funds provided to her. She runs this as a grocery store and makes enough money to support her family. She is paying back her start-up loan now. Her husband is no longer an alcoholic and helps his wife in her work.
Sriyani (35) was abused by her drunkard husband and brother-in-law. Her eight-year-old son has a heart problem. They are hit by abject poverty and don’t have a proper place to live in. With the funds provided to her, Sriyani started cultivating paddy and ginger to support her family.
With the funds provided to Yogeshwari and her sister-in-law Susila, they started their own business, making and selling snacks. Their husbands help them distribute these snacks to neighbouring villages in trishaws. They are now striving to expand their business by putting up a bakery.
Why SLGGA is important for young girls
Being a Girl Guide does not merely mould girls to build campfires and tie knots. It is the only association that reaches out to girls at the grass-root level and educate them on what the society expects from them. It helps them build their self-confidence and creates a conducive environment to live in.
Further, it instills in them leadership skills by initiative man workshops and events that would hone their skills.
The SLGGA teaches young girls to stand up for themselves. It paves the way for young women to aid those who are less privileged. The association has left their footprint of social welfare on our little island, proving that they are an integral part of our society.