Learning > Inspiration

Girl Guides pioneer still active at 84, strives to keep movement relevant and fresh

She says times have changed but basic goal of movement remains

Sue-Ann Tan on 31 Jul 2017

The Straits Times


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In her 60 years with the Girl Guides, Madam Chan Siok Fong has worked to keep the movement fresh and relevant with the times.


And while the 84-year-old, who was the second chief commissioner of the Singapore Girl Guides Association in 1967, believes that new developments such as technology can be incorporated into guiding, the basic goal of educating the girls and the values that the movement inculcates remain the same.


"The activities are meant to complement what schools lack, which is imparting life skills and knowledge outside textbooks. That is what makes Scouts and Guides so important," she said.


Madam Chan was one of the more than 130 Girl Guides leaders and volunteers recognised at the Girl Guides Singapore (GGS) centennial awards ceremony, held on July 21 at the Istana to celebrate the GGS' 100th anniversary this year.


Guiding is currently offered as a co-curricular activity in more than half of the primary and secondary schools here. But it was not always smooth sailing for the guiding movement here.


In the early years of Singapore's independence, Madam Chan's challenge was to keep the movement alive and make it attractive to the local girls.


"When Singapore gained independence, the Guides' membership gradually shrank from 3,000 to just above 1,000. The girls were mostly daughters of the British, who left the country after independence," Madam Chan said. "My worry was how to recruit more members because this is a voluntary movement, not a paid job. People need to be interested to sign up."


It was down to Madam Chan and her team to train and recruit local leaders, and even revise the Guides' Constitution, programme, law, uniform and even badges to fit the Singaporean context.


In the smallest ways, like how the Guides were trained to make beds or brew tea, Madam Chan updated their programme to make it relevant in a new era of independence.


"The girls then were trained to make beds the British way, with many layers of bedsheets," she shared with a laugh.


"They also brewed English tea and were taught very precise ways of laying out teaspoons and even the order of putting milk and sugar in the tea. Instead, I had to teach them how to make Chinese tea."


Beyond putting away old traditions that were left behind by colonial rule, Madam Chan also ensured that her girls would learn skills and lessons that were specific to their situation. "Back in the 70s, there was a drug problem in Singapore, so we had anti-drug badges to teach them to be aware. They had to talk to at least five people in school about these issues and what they learnt," she said.


Today, these badges remain but the programmes that centre on them have changed.


Rather than speaking to five people, the Guides now create posters, set up booths and use social media to reach others and share their messages. "The programmes evolve but the values stay the same," Madam Chan said.


"These values are always relevant and a fundamental part of character building. Whether it was in the 60s or now, I still expect Guides to be sincere, loyal and responsible as an adult. As long as you do your best, that is enough."


To her, guiding is not just about campfires and hiking, but "how the experiences you gain affect your growth and change your adult life".


She recounted a time when some girls went hiking in a forest and found a hut with an old man living in it without anyone caring for him. The girls ended up taking food to him and even visiting him weekly to see how he was doing.


"The hiking was the original plan but then the girls learnt to do a service along the way," Madam Chan said. Still, she acknowledges the challenges of getting girls to join the Guides in a new era where they have a wide variety of co-curricular activities to choose from.


"Young girls now face so much pressure from work and school. They also have so many activities to freely participate in. Guiding demands discipline and obligation, and they might not like that."


Madam Chan hopes that, going forward, there will still be girls who choose guiding and are willing to spend time volunteering in the service of others.


Her own daughter, now in her 50s, has also been involved in the Guides since 1970. She went from being a Brownie in primary school to elected chairman of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts Asia Pacific Region.


Ms Ada Fong, 46, a communications commissioner in GGS, said pioneers like Madam Chan "are still trying to understand the heartbeat of the girls and give them what they need today and prepare for what they will require tomorrow".


The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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