I first joined the Brownies when I was 7 or 8 years old, when my father was stationed in West Berlin in what was then West Germany. I moved onto the Girl Guides both there and in Telford, England. I wasn’t the most dedicated, but even decades later, I can still remember the Brownie Guide promise:

I promise that I will do my best

To do my duty to God

To serve the Queen and help other people

And keep the Brownie Guide Law

Please don’t correct me if I have misremembered it; I had to learn it off by heart to be accepted and it was hard! I expect it has changed now to be far more inclusive and I hope that girls don’t have to work towards badges in being a good hostess, as I had to, in these more enlightened times.

Next month, I have the honour of leading creative writing workshops as part of an Empowering Girls workshop for the Rapaki Rangers, a local Girl Guide unit. It is part of a Gold Advocacy project for three girls who are running it. They tell me the aims of Girl Esteem are:

  • Be balanced – To help girls feel confident in their own skin. 
  • Be brilliant – To inspire girls to pursue traditionally male lead positions.
  • Be empowered – To give girls the tools they need to exit potentially dangerous situations, know when they need help, and where to seek it.
  • Be active – To teach girls how to take care of their health and fitness.

And they are quite right. One of the most important female characters I created is Sabrina Summers who learns to accept that she is the best person to lead her group. For many girls, having the experience in the Scout/Guide movement gives them confidence to become leaders but back in “my day” I learned something else: I learned that actually I am not always that important compared to getting done what needs to be done. The Brownies are named for little elves who sneak out at night to do nice things with no reward.

Now, the question is, is that actually a good lesson to have learned? My answer is no. This was in the 1970s and thankfully the world has changed. When people do or say something nice or worthwhile or which makes a positive difference to others, to animals or to the environment, they should be heaped with praise; yes they – we – ought to also just do the right thing because it’s the right thing and because it needs to be done. However, these kinds of actions and these kinds of people should be celebrated; yet again and again we see success in financial or sporting achievements lauded but people who donate to charity, fundraise for their school, even just share their lunch with a colleague, should not be unsung heroes but should stand proud.

On that note, I recently received a student-led Teaching Excellence Award from the polytechnic where I teach in Christchurch, New Zealand and it was lovely to be acknowledged by my classes. Will it make a difference to how I teach and how much extra effort I put into my students’ success? Nope, I do all that because it’s the right thing to do as a teacher. Did it make me feel on top of the world, heck yes. I didn’t actually tell anyone about it because of the lesson I learned as a Brownie Guide, so I’m telling everyone now.

So here’s to the unsung heroes – sing out and be proud. And thank you to the scout and guide leaders around the world who are volunteers and who work to make their young charges braver, kinder, bolder and better adults.