Sisters Around the World
21 July 2017 at 1:49 pm
Melissa Reoch is the community development officer at Girl Guides Victoria, part of the largest volunteer organisation for girls and women in Australia. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Established in 1910, Girl Guiding is now one of the largest all female organisations in the world.
Girl Guides Victoria forms part of this bigger network, that spans 146 countries around the world.
The aim is to empower girls and young women to grow into confident, self-respecting, responsible community members.
As part of this Girl Guides Victoria has been running a special program for two years encouraging refugees and recent migrants to engage with the Guides and encourage better community cohesion.
The organisation is now set to launch a new program for women from the Afghan community.
Reoch, who has been part of the Guides for more than three years as a community development officer and the Victorian co-ordinator for the global Free Being Me program, says the Guides can be a bridge between cultures for Australia’s newest arrivals.
In this week’s Changemaker, Reoch talks about breaking away from the norm and taking the Guides into schools, why there is something very special about an all girls environment and why it is a place you can really belong.
What attracted you to the role of Community Development Officer at Girl Guides Victoria?
I have always been passionate about making a difference to girls and women and I think education is a really big way of doing that.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There are so many different things that I do. My role is as diverse as the people that we are working with.
There is a lot of creativity to do new things which is very exciting, to look at things differently and consider new ways of working to make opportunities.
What are the current objectives for Girl Guides Victoria?
In the current program we are doing a lot of work to do with community cohesion. We’re providing opportunities for more girls to experience Guiding from diverse communities. The girls in our community cohesion programs come from more that 28 different cultural backgrounds and are some of our newest arrivals.
One of the other wonderful programs that we do have which I think it really gold is a program called Free Being Me. So Free Being Me has been developed by Dove and the World Association, and it is a body image and self-esteem program.
So it is all about,looking to educate a whole generation across the globe on understanding the image myth that media portrays that girls should be a certain way and look a certain way and there is only one body type. Our program helps girls to understand that there is more than one way a body can be and it is more what your body does, rather than what your body looks like, that’s important. And it is quite an incredible thing that we have and how much we should value it. That has been running now for a couple of years and I think it has been an incredible program.
You are doing a lot of work in schools with girls from refugee and new migrant backgrounds. How does the program work?
So instead of the traditional method of delivering Guiding which is normally after hours in a Guide hall or a community building, we’re bringing Guiding into the schools so that girls who would not normally access Guiding can have access. And girls are identified by their community people, in the schools, as benefiting from the program. They are vulnerable or at risk, but for want of a better term, it will meet their needs.
What difference can being part of the Guides make to refugees or new migrants in helping then to settle into the community?
Girl Guides give girls a sense of identity, they often struggle with one foot in their previous culture, a culture which they’re still involved in, and their new culture. And Guiding being from 146 countries around the world relates to girls from all cultures and backgrounds, so it is like a shared identity and something that can be very Australian but also, one of the things that I’ve found, is when girls discover Guiding is in countries from their previous homeland they feel very connected to it, so it is like a bridge.
You are launching a new program for women from the Afghan community. What does that look like?
It looks very different to our traditional guiding methods. So, we have gone to the Afghan women and said: “We have this wonderful thing called Guiding, it’s an opportunity for girls to come together in a girls only space, and we look at the interests of the girls, and we look at leadership opportunities, developing resilience and citizenship.” And their women have said: “We want to make his happen.” So the ladies are getting on board with becoming leaders and they’re recruiting the girls from their own communities to be part of Guiding.
What are your hopes for that program?
We’re hoping to be able to model that in other communities. So this is a pilot project for new work. So we’ve also got some new women from the Indian community that are also now interested in becoming leaders and recruiting girls from their own communities.
Just recently, I spoke on one of the Punjabi radio stations and there were lots of callers ringing into say: “Tell me more about Guiding, because we have over 2 million members in India, so it’s a big thing in India.” And some of these ladies are saying: “Where are all the girls here, get them on board.”
How connected are you to guide organisations around the world?
We’re one of 146 countries that belong to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. So we are all part of a bigger picture and we connect through shared events throughout the year, particularly Thinking Day in February, where we all celebrate at the same time our sisters around the world and that unity of 10 million members which is pretty exciting.
Why do you think it is important to have an organisation like the Guides, dedicated just to girls?
I think there is something very special when it is an all girls environment, there’s a wonderful opportunity for women to mentor girls, but also it’s a great space for girls to explore their identity, around whatever that may be. So one minute they would like to be cooking, the next minute they might want to be climbing ropes and camp, and so it may be that they are cooking and camping and doing their hair and nails at the same time. So they are able to explore all aspects of what it is to be a girl at any given time. There is not the pressure on to be an “ideal girl” in any kind of perceived way, and often I think when it is a mixed environment girls feel the pressure to be more like boys.
What inspires you?
Just seeing the difference the programs make. Hearing the feedback from girls.
I think of the words of an 11-year-old refugee girl in our program where she said: “At Girl Guides, I feel like everyone cares and it’s the one place that I really belong”.
So there is no hesitation to get up in the morning when you hear things like that coming out of the mouths of girls in the program. It really is making a difference.