Day 3: Rickshaws Over Busses

I remember when I travelled to China, everyone warned me not to take a rickshaw. I tried it a couple of times and agreed that I should have listened. My Mom and I had an absolutely terrifying drive where we were traveling, weaving in and out of traffic, in the wrong direction.

We took our second Indian rickshaw today and they are much less terrifying! They zoom around traffic, but there don’t really seem to be any traffic laws here so they fit right in.

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On the other hand, Indian busses are insane! They don’t really stop and you kind of have to run to jump in. Don’t even think about not holding on once you get inside. In fact, you’d better hold on with both hands.

Anyways, that’s the end of today’s story. I’d better start at the beginning. After breakfast this morning we had a session about communities and our role in them. We drew community maps to represent ourselves at Sangam and talked about WAGGGS’ “be the change” toolkit for taking action.

We also had two community partners come talk about their organizations and the history of HIV/Aids in India.

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After lunch Natasha, an independent guest (Stephanie) and I visited a sweet shop nearby to try some Indian candy.

Then we had a session about the sustainable development goals –17 goals that are replacing the MDGs until 2030. It was interesting to see what progress has been made around the world and how the direction is evolving.

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Our evening involved taking a rickshaw to Laxami road for tons of shopping and dinner out. I rode over with Agnes from Mauritius and Ifatt from Bangladesh. We talked about our hobbies and life back home. We all visited a sari and Punjabi store and bought fabric to be tailored tomorrow. Dinner was very similar to the Indian food we have been eating here for lunch, but we got nan for the first time! I managed to buy a few gifts but won’t say too much here since I don’t know who is reading.

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We were all quite exhausted after dinner when we took the bus back to Sangam. At least we can say we did it once!

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Day 2: The Event Begins

The event began for real at lunch today so this morning was our last chance to relax and explore on our own.

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We took a look at the Sangam challenge that we can earn. It has all different sections that encourage us to learn or do activities about India, Sangam, WAGGGS and the environment. There was a similar one at Our Chalet when we were there. We get to choose different activities to do from each section. So far we have done 10 laps of the pool, invented a synchro routine, learned to say “be prepared” in multiple languages, learned a Sangam song and a few other things I can’t remember right now.

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After morning snack we headed out of the compound in search of spices. The staff here has recommended a place with an English speaker who told us all about the spices we could buy and how they are used.

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The event began with a quick ceremony followed by icebreakers, a tour of the site and an explanation of what we can expect this week and what we will be doing. Lunch was Indian-style again with paneer, veggies, rice and chapatti.

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Before dinner we went on a neighbourhood walk, saw some temples and visited a local house that belonged to someone who used to work at Sangam.

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Dinner was semi-western with fries and interesting chicken patties.

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The real opening ceremony happened with us all in official uniform
at night. There were candles, flowers and blessings.

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Day 1: India Smells Like Cilantro…Among Other Things

It was so nice to get a few hours of sleep in a real bed. I actually woke up feeling relatively refreshed this morning. Our program doesn’t actually start until tomorrow so we spent the day wandering around Sangam, lazing in hammocks, and swimming in the pool.

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Last we heard there were supposed to be 27 people here for the event but it sounds like it is going to be just 8 of us — one from Australia, one from Madagascar, one from Bangladesh, two of us from Canada, two from India and possibly one more Indian girl arriving tomorrow.

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We decided to do a little bit of shopping this afternoon since we had free time so we took a rickshaw into a shopping area. It was nowhere near as crazy driving as in China, but Natasha (from Australia) thought it was pretty crazy!

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I got a new skirt with elephants on it and Marie-Eve got a couple of pairs of pants. The experience was very similar to a Chinese shopping excursion — lots of small stalls with vendors pulling out everything they thought you could possibly want.

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We had some nice Indian food today: chapatti, cabbage, rice and dahl for lunch and chicken rice and cauliflower for dinner. It was all a bit spicy but not too bad. We even got real chai at chai time!
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I’m still feeling a little jet lagged and dazed so I’m very happy we decided to come a day early.

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Thanks for reading!

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Arrival in India

I haven’t updated this blog in many months but today seemed like a timely moment to do so. I used to use it to keep track of what we did as a unit and share ideas with others but it has slowly turned into more of a traveling blog (Switzerland, super Guide conference and now India) and a place to post the articles I write for girlguidescanblog.ca.

Anyways, I might as well get started at the beginning. My long-time friend and co-Guider Marie-Eve and I left for India almost 36 hours ago. The World Organization of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) has 5 Centres around the world. I have previously visited Pax Lodge in London, England and Our Chalet in Switzerland, but this is our first time at Sangam in Pune, India. Our primary goal was to visit our co-Guider, Kaitlin, who is volunteering here, but we also got to sign up for a leadership event centered around the 6th Millennium Development Goal (MDG). For anyone who doesn’t know, the MDGs were 8 goals decided upon by the UN in 2000 with results to hopefully be achieved by 2015. They are:

1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. To achieve universal primary education
3. To promote gender equality
4. To reduce child mortality
5. To improve maternal health
6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. To ensure environmental sustainability
8. To develop a global partnership for development

Young women from around the world were sponsored to come to this event (not us) so there should be a really interesting mix of Guiders.

Marie-Eve works for Air Canada so we were lucky enough to be able to fly standby. This meant that we didn’t decide that we were definitely going until a few weeks ago, when we were leaving until a few days ago and weren’t sure we would make it onto the actual flights until we did. In the end we took two 8-hour flights connecting through Zurich and a driver from Sangam came to pick us up for the 4-hour drive to Pune.

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The flights themselves were fairly uneventful and we were very relieved when we made it onto the second one. We had a little trouble taking out money when we got here — India doesn’t let you bring money in — but eventually we got some and went to meet our driver. We were also very happy that he was there because we hadn’t been able to tell sangam until the very last minute what flight we were on.

It was past midnight here when we got in the car so we didn’t get to see much of Mumbai and the surrounding areas, but the driving wasn’t as crazy as I had feared. We had some enlightening conversations with our chauffeur as well. We asked him how cold it gets in Pune and he told us “very, very cold!” It turns out that that is about 13 degrees Celsius. He was quite interesting in hearing about our snow back home.

I guess he doesn’t come to Sangam very often because he got a little lost, but we eventually pulled up in front of a sign with the WAGGGS trefoil and got to step inside Sangam. The security guard woke Kaitlin up so that she could help us fill in some paperwork (it’s almost as bad as China, I guess they don’t know our unit’s “no causing paperwork” rule) and show us around.

We’re staying in a dorm that could eventually contain up to 12 people but so far there is only one other woman here. We haven’t talked to her yet since she was asleep when we arrived.

We got to sleep for a few hours and are now awake to start getting up and exploring Sangam and the surrounding community in the daylight.

The internet seems good so far so I will try to write again (with pictures) when I get a chance. I apologize in advance for any typos. I’m not used to writing so much on my iPod.

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Guiding the Way to STEM

When I tell people that I am a Science Communication graduate student, I get many of the same questions as I get when I tell people that I am a Girl Guide leader: “What’s that?” “How is it relevant in today’s world?” “How did you land there?” I won’t go as far as to try to explicitly answer these questions in this blog post. But the way in which I have linked Guiding and my field of study may be of interest.

For my culminating research project, I am seeking to understand the relationship between Guiders and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I want to find out how Guiders feel about STEM, how they bring it into their units, where they get resources, what types of Guiders plan more science into their meetings and hopefully the reasons behind the answers as well.

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Guides experimenting with the chemistry of gummy bears in cookies 

The Girl Guide program book divides “science and technology” badges into their own separate section, but that isn’t the only place science can be found. When you cover the first aid badge and talk about the ABCs, you are discussing life sciences. When you go on a hike and find animal tracks, you are learning about the natural world. When you cook with the unit, you are doing chemistry. When your girls create a budget for an outing, you are bringing math into your activities.

STEM subjects aren’t ones that can or should be scheduled into a single meeting once every three years. In Canada, although women account for 66% of all university graduates, they only account for 39% of those graduating with a STEM degree. As Guiders and role models, we have the opportunity and responsibility to increase this number. Guiding is a girl-led movement and I’m not suggesting that we should push girls to go into the sciences regardless of their interests. But we have to show the girls that science isn’t scary and to do so, we have to believe it ourselves.

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Guides experimenting with friction, using the boxcars they engineered

If you are a Guide Guider and would like to help me with my research, please take a few minutes to answer the short survey found here. Thank you! http://redcap.laurentian.ca/surveys/?s=yo98E3

I am incredibly grateful for the number of responses I have already had. It’s wonderful, although not surprising, to see Guiders helping Guiders!

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♫ Go Well and Safely♫

Our sessions began even earlier this morning and I came away with loads of new ideas from the “Camping Beyond the Basics” session.

We started trying to identify tree leaves using a dichotomous key (sort of like a flow-chart). Apparently I’m not very good because I got more than half of them wrong, but I think girls might have fun with the activity.

Then, we talked about alternative ways to start a fire. I even got to try making a spark using flint and steel. Now I want one!

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Afterwards we discussed many interesting cooking methods, some of which I’ve tried before (buddy burners, milk cartons, tinfoil packets) and tons that I now want to try (garbage can chicken, box ovens, chocolate fondue on a buddy burner, cooking in a pit, etc).

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Lastly, we tasted some pine needle tea out of a Kelly Kettle and it was quite delicious!

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Then, I had to rush up to my room to finish packing my bag and bring it down before the closing ceremony so that we were all checked out.

During closing, they had us discuss different things we had learnt over the weekend and think about what we will be able to bring back to our own units. We finished up by singing “Go Well and Safely” before grabbing lunch and heading to the airport.

Somebody apparently needs to teach the hotel about math because I waited 25 minutes for a shuttle that comes every 20 minutes, but I still made it to the airport on time. I made it to my gate without much trouble (other than the long wait at security) but shortly after we were supposed to board, they announced that the flight was delayed for an hour due to fog. I didn’t worry too much and buckled down to get some schoolwork done.

Unfortunately, about an hour later, they announced that the flight was cancelled. Apparently, all of today’s flights to Sudbury and Thunder Bay were cancelled. One from this morning actually got all the way to Sudbury before they made them turn around and go all the way back to Toronto without landing. there were three more flights tonight, but I didn’t like my chances since there was no guarantee that the weather was going to get better and since there were 3 plane loads of people trying to get home.

So, the Guider I was travelling with (Jillian) and I headed over to the customer service phones they told us to use and tried to rebook for tomorrow. The first time we tried, we got lovely music for a few minutes before it all went silent. The second time, the phone told me that the number I was trying to reach did not exist although I hadn’t dialled a number…It was supposed to be a direct connection.

So, Jillian wandered over to the customer service desk and I left her in line while I went to find a pay phone (I didn’t take my cell with me to Toronto) and called my family friends who live in Toronto to see if we could spend the night there. Since they are basically family there was no problem and I went to join Jillian in line confident that we had somewhere to stay.

By that time, she had called her boyfriend in Sudbury who decided he was going to drive and pick us up. For the record, it’s about a 4.5 hour drive in each direction. About 2 minutes later, we found out that he couldn’t borrow his mother’s car so we were back to our original plan.

Still standing in line in hopes of getting our ticket reimbursed, we started up a conversation with the two women in line behind us who noticed we were wearing uniforms with “the Brownie cookie logo.” Apparently that proved that we weren’t serial killers and they asked if we wanted to share a rental care with them back to Sudbury. After a couple minutes hesitation (you aren’t supposed to get into cars with strangers after all) we decided that they looked fairly harmless and that at least we’d better together. We both really wanted to be back in time for class tomorrow morning. Plus, we were saving Girl Guides money. They could get money back for the plane ticket and just pay for our portion of the rental.

The drive up went very smoothly. I’m happy to say that they weren’t serial killers either. I got lots of reading in the car and we finally made it home a mere 5 hours late.

Moral of the story: Always travel in pairs and in your Girl Guide uniform!

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Spontaneous Combustion

We had an extremely packed day today that began when my alarm rang at 7:30 am. I didn’t really want to get out of bed, but thoughts of the excitement ahead convinced me it was time. They had a lovely breakfast buffet set out for us (Holiday Inn has REALLY good food) and so I got to sit with and meet some new people. I’m not doing any better with names than yesterday, but I’ve been trying to sit with a new group for every meal.

After lunch, we had 2 great sessions run by the Disney Institute where we learned all kinds of things about Disney’s management style and how that can apply to Guiding in a session called “Making a Difference as Leaders.” It lived up to all the magical things I had heard about Disney trainings and I even got a tiny figurine of Mulan!

Then came lunch, more amazing food including salmon, chicken, lasagna and a giant table of pies and cakes!

After lunch I went to my second pre-chosen session: “Super Ideas Beyond Community Service” where we brainstormed about service projects that are appropriate for Guides before planning a few out. I got now new ideas such as lee-lee hats, adopting a family at Christmas, housewarming gifts for Habitat for Humanity, bat boxes, milk bag matts and craft kits for hospitals. Did you know that there is even a Guide and Brownie unit at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto?

My next session was the one I was looking most forward to: Watt is Love (aka STEM). We zipped through many, many science, technology, engineering and math activities that I’m looking forward to bringing back to my Guides. Some we got to try out, some our session leader demonstrated and some we just talked about. I’m currently studying Science Communication so that made it extra interesting.

After that we had a little break before dinner. There were many tables set up with information about different Guiding topics (links, GM, etc.) and we had a scavenger hunt to do through that.

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Dinner was a big sit-down deal with steak, chicken, potatoes and veggies. It was delicious — as all the food here has been! I sat with a girl I didn’t know, but after talking to her for a while we discovered that we guided in the same district when we were Guides and Pathfinders. It’s a small world!

After dinner came the keynote speakers for the evening: Becky Kellar and Cheryl Pounder. Now I’m not a huge hockey fan so I didn’t know who they were, but I soon discovered that they were winners of Olympic Gold medals and that they could tell inspirational stories very well. Their best advice: “Success is not a result of spontaneous combustion. You have to light yourself on fire.”

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Then came my absolute favourite part of the day: Campfire! We sang many songs I knew and many I didn’t but it was amazing to listen to everyone singing together! Some of my favourites were: “On my Honour,” “Cathedral Bells,” “Linger,” “Say Why,” “Walk Around,” “One Tin Soldier,” “The Guide Marching Song,” “Barges,” “Land of the Silver Birch” and an animal version of “Good King Wenceslas,” the last of which I can’t wait to teach my Guides! After the official campfire was done, they brought out more food (including the tinniest grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever seen), but many of us carried on singing for another hour or so!

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Now it’s time for bed. I have one last session in the morning before I fly back to the real world of homework in Sudbury. I have been having an incredible time!    IMG_3570

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