February 22, 2009

A favorite 'holiday' for this Girl Scout

Today is a Girl Scout holiday and it's the one I love best.

Online friends made years before Bebo, MySpace and FaceBook helped me learn more about being a sister to every Girl Scout and Girl Guide in about 150 countries.

Those same online friends help make the celebration of today special. Feb. 22 is World Thinking Day, a day to think about Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world. Although the day was created in 1926 at the fourth Girl Guide/Girl Scout International Conference in New York, I don't remember celebrating it much as a girl Girl Scout.

I hope that the Girl Scouts I volunteered for in the 1990s and early 2000s remember what we did. They have the patches like the ones in this post to serve as reminders of some of the events created by WAGGGS-L, an email list that continues today.

WAGGGS-L once was the biggest Girl Scout/Girl Guide list. The text-only list was a way for many English-speaking adults involved with Girl Guides and Girl Scouts to exchange ideas. It was a busy list and, like many lists, some questions came up over and over. That led to one of the first hosts of the lists creating a Thinking Day resource to help Girl Scouts and Girl Guides with activities. The host wrote:
"Especially in the United States, Thinking Day is celebrated with internationally-themed events, and troops often pick this time of year to learn about cultures from other nations and Scouting or Guiding in other countries. "
The resource was "prepared in an attempt to limit the posts to WAGGGS-L that request information about other countries."

We also started creating our own ways of marking Girl Scout/Girl Guide occasions.

I think 1997 was the first time the girls in my troop used IRC (Internet Relay Chat) to talk with girls involved with the Girl Scout/Guide movement. That was at my house.

In other years, the Flint Public Library and the Genesee District Library opened their computer labs to give girls in what was Girl Scouts Fair Winds Council a chance to participate.

Another year, our troop went about 25 miles to partner with another Cadette Girl Scout troop to host a Thinking Day event at a school. Of course, one station was devoted to participating in the chat.

My troop would help girls from other troops communicate on the chat services. And by chat - remember this was in the late 1990s - I mean the girls showed others how to type in their words and choose and send simple icons.

I'll never forget the Brownie Girl Scout who started crying after finishing a chat with a Brownie in London. A Girl Scout volunteer showed her Flint, Michigan, and London on a map in one of the many reference books the libraries provided. The girl cried because she knew she couldn't swim that far and would never meet her new friend.

I also loved watching as the girls learned that how time worked - that it might be lunchtime here but time for dinner elsewhere. Maybe a day earlier or even a day later. The girls loved sleepovers on Thinking Day so that they could talk with girls from other countries throughout the night.

Several years, we exchanged postcards with other troops. Each troop would send a postcard from their area and write about favorite activities. One year, we exchanged cards only with troops with girls the same age.

The majority of troops lived in the United States, so when an exchange between international troops could be arranged that was a bonus. Now, some countries post official postcards online.

The exchange continues and this year 3,196 US Troops and 861 international units from 52 countries participated.
  • 2008: 2,961 US Troops, 1,057 International Units from 49 countries
  • 2007: 3,145 US Troops and 675 International Units from 43 countries
  • 2006: 2,458 US Troops and 445 International Units from 38 countries
  • 2005,: 2,399 US Troops and 438 International Units from 29 countries
  • 2004: 2,443 US Troops and 422 International Units from 31 countries
  • 2003: 1,,734 US Troops and 487 International Units from 28 countries
  • 2002: 2,214 US Troops and 428 International Units from 34 countries
  • 2001, 1,200 US troops; 175 International units from 22 countries
  • 2000, 795 US troops; 127 International units from 21 countries
  • Also held in 1998 and 1999, but no statistical data
The Feb. 22 date was chosen because it was the birthday of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout Movement, and his wife Olave, who served as World Chief Guide.

So it's not surprising that the idea of birthday gifts would be added to the celebration. At the 7th World Conference in 1932, a delegate suggested girls could contribute to the World Association. Olave wrote to all Girl Guides and Girl Scouts after this idea was adopted asking them to help support the Movement by donating just a penny per girl . The money helps spread the Movement.

One year, we based our donation on the number of post cards received by a particular date. Another year, it was a penny per every inch of girl's height.

Like many things in the Girl Scout Movement, service sweetens the activity. WAGGGS-L members used the theme of Service in Blooming in 1998. Girls participated in activities such as fashion shows featuring Girl Scout uniforms to spark shared memories at nursing homes; creation of centerpieces for shut-ins and sharing of international fairy tales at library story hours.

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the official center of Thinking Day activities for all Girl Scouts and Girl Guides, sets a different theme each year. For instance, this year the theme is girls worldwide say “Stop the spread of AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The topic links to the Millennium Development Goal 6: ‘Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases’ and WAGGGS’ Global Action Theme.

Important work and a reminder that each of us has a role to play.

As the Old Goat said in one of the many virtual greetings that spread this year:
"I am a link in the Golden Chain of World Friendship.
I will keep my link strong and bright."

(And I pass my candle to my right. We have already sung "The World Song." We will sing "One Little Candle", "Oh, Beautiful Banner", and then "Taps.")
I'm off to get my place in the cirlce. Have a Happy Thinking Day!


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