Irish Girl Guides reaching out to refugees

News Stories, 17 July 2007

© UNHCR/S.O'Brien
The different national Girl Guides contingents had their own displays, but a UNHCR tent attracted particular attention.

DUBLIN, Ireland, July 17 (UNHCR) The Irish Girl Guides have launched an outreach project to promote their organization among immigrants, including asylum seekers and refugees. The project is aimed at both boosting interest in the movement and assisting the integration of the new arrivals.

The outreach programme is being piloted in west Dublin's Corduff community, where an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers are settling. Almost two dozen Congolese, Nigerian, Moldovan, Romanian, Polish and Chinese girls have joined the Guides in Corduff under the initiative.

"We're really only at the beginning of this" said Maureen Dillon, who heads programme and training activities for the Irish Girl Guides. "It's hard to quantify at the moment. Our aim is to bring girls from families that have decided to settle here into the mainstream so they are not marginalized because of language or culture and are able to integrate. The Guides can help facilitate that."

The Irish Girl Guides hope to take their success and lessons learned in Corduff out into the regions. They have secured government funding for the initiative, and this September plan to start a Ladybird Unit in an asylum reception centre in Mosney for girls aged 5-7. They hope to encourage parents also to be involved.

In a further effort to promote social and cultural exchange, the Irish Girl Guides last week hosted an international jamboree for more than 1,000 girl guides and girl scouts from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and the United States.

The camp, which opened near the Fairyhouse Racetrack north-west of Dublin on July 7 and closed last Saturday, was plagued by wet weather but this did not seem to dampen the girls' enthusiasm. The different national contingents had their own displays, but a UNHCR tent attracted particular attention.

The canvas tent was originally manufactured for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and has since been used in emergency operations around the world. Its presence at the jamboree was a reminder that for some people living in a tent is not a choice but a necessity.

Many of the guides and scouts visited the UNHCR exhibit to learn about the life of refugees and to get a feel for the kind of conditions they live in. Seven of the Irish girl guides spent the last night of camp in the refugee tent and were surprised to discover that it was warmer than their own polyester tents.

"This experience would make you want to help. More guides should stay in the tent. People are dying everyday and no one knows about it," said Aoife Walsh from the Charleville Girl Guides. Her fellow guide, Gemma Tierney, added: "We were uncomfortable enough here this week, but we had much more than many refugees."

Manuel Jordão, UNHCR's representative in Ireland, has stressed the importance of integration for refugees. He said, "There is progress on integration. A new minister for integration has been appointed for the first time. Outreach, like that by the Girl Guides, deserves special attention and support. Integration needs to be a priority in every part of society, because it is crucial for Ireland's future."

Girl guides at the camp also took part in a UNHCR-run competition to design a television advertisement for refugees. This highlighted an awareness among the guides and scouts that safety and protection, shelter, peace and HIV/AIDS were all relevant issues for refugees.

UNHCR will also be present at the World Scout Jamboree to be held from July 27-August 8 in Chelmsford, UK. More than 40,000 scouts from around the world are expected to attend the event, which marks the centenary of the movement. The Scouts and Girl Guides movements have long supported the work of UNHCR.

By Steve O'Brien in Dublin, Ireland