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Catherine O’Connor – A long Way From Tipperary

A Leader Of Irish Girl Guides Recalls Her Five Years In India

Reporter Tom Ryan

This year’s World “Thinking Day” (22nd February last) – a day when Girl Guides celebrated their international friendships; had special significance for a Thurles Irish Girl Guide Leader.

It was the first time in five years that Catherine O’Connor, formerly of Cathedral Street, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, had celebrated that event in Ireland. For the past five years she has celebrated with Girl Guides from around the world at Sangam World Guiding Centre in Pune, that sprawling city in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, India; in her role as Deputy World Centre Manager.

World “Thinking Day” is a day when Guides across the globe give thanks for the international friendships they enjoy through the Guiding movement and raise money to deliver life-changing opportunities for girls in developing countries. This year’s World “Thinking Day” theme was ‘Impact’ and the Irish 12,000 Girl Guide membership joined with 10 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts across the globe, to celebrate the
impact that Guiding has on them and that they, in turn, have on their local communities and the wider world.

Catherine, who is a Leader with Thurles Senior Branch (Senior Branch Irish Girl Guides are those aged from 14-30 years) and a Community Youth Worker with Youth Work Ireland Tipperary, says, “Everything we do in Girl Guiding has an impact on our lives and the lives of people around us. My own life has been hugely impacted by Girl Guiding since joining at age seven. By taking part in relevant, exciting and fun activities our members experience positive change within themselves. As they develop different skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, commitment and citizenship, they get motivated to make a positive change in the community and wider world. Hence, Girl Guiding impacts individually and collectively.”

Catherine’s time in India was life-changing. “What an amazing country! From the colours, the noise, the festivals, the vibrancy, the hustle and bustle and the warmth of the people, it was a real honour calling this country my home,” she says.

“A big honour for me was getting to represent the Irish Girl Guides and when I got to see the Irish flag flying high at the opening ceremony of the 107 events that happened during my time at Sangam. There was lots of fun and laughter when I attempted to teach Irish dancing at international nights and special memories of enjoying Tayto sandwiches, while watching and explaining Moone Boy with the Sangam family.”

“During my time at Sangam I got to meet over 5,000 Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from all around the world! I also got to work closely with 13 other international staff, 36 Indian staff and volunteers in training from the local community. (Some 71 volunteers and 125 interns were community programme participants). So on a daily basis I got to experience the true friendship and sisterhood of global Guiding and have such interesting conversations, learning so much about other cultures. I am so privileged to have friends I can now visit around the world; from Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, Canada, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Slovenia and Sweden, to name but a few places.”

Cate considered herself very lucky to have been part of Sangam’s 50th birthday celebrations, from the early planning stages in March 2013 right through to the big day on 16th October 2016, when 1000 plus friends from around the global and local community joined in with the Sangam camp-site for a massive celebration. She was delighted to discover that “amazing, wonderful, exciting things can can happen when you’re brave enough to try and take the chance on new and sometimes scary opportunities”.

She continues, “By getting on the plane on 19th July 2012, just days after Irish Girl Guides’ international camp CAMP 101, despite being so nervous, anxious, doubting myself and so tired; I got to experience so
much from the kindness of strangers who are now lifelong friends; to being able to call the amazing country of India my other home;  to having dared myself to do all of the following, from driving a
rickshaw and scooter, trying Bollywood dancing, hanging upside down in an ariel yoga hammock, abseiling off the Sangam water tower, to travelling solo in India, including taking an overnight sleeper bus and finding my way around Delhi train station at midnight.

This all happened because I took that first step to apply! So I would encourage you to BE BRAVE when new opportunities come your way, just GO FOR IT!”

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