World Thinking Day 2012
27 February 2012
From Marion Street to Alandi Road: World Thinking Day
I have very vivid memories of my first World Thinking Day. It took place in the Marion Street Elementary School gymnasium, and there were tables around the room, each representing a different country, decorated with cardboard cutouts and homemade posters created by lots of other Brownies and Juniors from our council. I remember thinking that it resembled the international fair my school had put on for the Winter Olympics, but I realized quickly that it was something different--something special to Girl Scouts, special to me. The different troops who had come to Thinking Day shared games and songs and foods from around the world, and we talked about how there were other girls--other Girl Scouts--in countries all across the globe, and right then, on that very day, as we thought of them, they were thinking of us! It was exciting, but also unreal, imagining all those other Girl Scouts around the world. Too good to be true.
I had the same thought on February 22nd of this year, as I celebrated World Thinking Day in the company of hundreds of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and some Boy Scouts to boot, at Sangam World Centre in Pune, India. This is too good to be true. With more than ten nationalities represented amongst Sangam’s staff, Community Programme participants, event guests, day visitors, and the hundreds of Bharat Scouts and Guides specially invited to join us for the day, those of us at Sangam for Thinking Day were not only thinking of our fellow Guides and Scouts around the world: we were celebrating alongside them.
The morning opened with the arrival of three hundred Bharat Scouts and Guides between the ages of ten and eighteen. Bharat Scouts and Guides are India’s national Scouting and Guiding association; Sangam celebrates Thinking Day and Founder’s Day with them every year. 2012’s event was held on Sangam’s campsite, where the stage was decorated with a billowing Indian tent and framed by the portraits of Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. After a few welcoming words, Sangam’s World Centre Manager Jen Barron and Dr. Bapat of Pune’s Bharat Scouts and Guides, draped garlands over each portrait, an Indian gesture of respect and honor.
As a Sangam Volunteer, serving a six-month term in Sangam’s Programme Team, it was my special job to bestow the garlands upon the garland-ers. Sitting on the stage, marigold-laden strings in my hands, I looked down on all of the eager upturned faces, and was reminded of that first World Thinking Day of mine when I was young, and just discovering the enormity--and the open arms--of the world around me. Jen read aloud WAGGGS Chairman Nadine El Achy’s Thinking Day Message, and a Hindi translator ensured that everyone understood the words. But it was Emily, another Sangam Volunteer, who made the message about Millennium Development Goal 7 and environmental sustainability fun and relatable, by getting the kids up and singing along to an alligator song with the lyrics: “The alligator is my friend--he can be yours too! I’d rather have him as my friend than see him in a zoo!” That was when the day really began--the ceremonial formality came to a close, and the children were divided into groups and sent off to play games, sing songs, and make crafts with Sangam’s twenty-three event guests.
From Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, these event participants, visiting Sangam for ten days, put together an amazing morning of fun for the Scouts and Guides, sharing their skills and home cultures as they taught beadwork, balloon games, songs, dances, and more. The Scouts and Guides also had the chance to share Indian culture, by putting on performances, including traditional Kathak dancing, an incredible tumbling act, and cheerleading accompanied by pom poms and a hip Bollywood beat. Rounding out the fun were Sangam’s Tare, who work for three months with Sangam’s non-profit community partner organizations, and put to use their newly-acquired Hindi with the visiting Bharat Scouts and Guides.
As for us volunteers, we ran around taking photos and videos, helping to hand out sticky Indian sweets at snack time, and making sure everybody was drinking plenty of water. As I stood in the center of the campsite, under the hot Indian sun, I stopped to look and to listen, to the shouting, the laughter, the music booming from the speakers and the singing wafting from each corner of the open field. I had that thought--this is too good to be true. Adri, a Tare from Costa Rica, expressed this openly: “This is my Girl Scout dream!” she exclaimed. But it was a quieter moment for me. As a seven-year-old Brownie in Marion Street School’s hot and cramped gymnasium, I had never even had this dream. It had not occurred to me. Yet here I was, living it: the multicultural fusion and fun and confusion and craziness. It was too hot, too loud, and it should have been too messy, too hard, with language barriers and culture clash and hundreds of people coordinating a single event in one spot. And yet, everything ran smoothly. It was the goal of World Thinking Day, fulfilled to a tee, the proof that Girl Guides and Girl Scouts really do make up one, enormous, fun and crazy family.
After a group photo, the Bharat Scouts and Guides went back to school. Those of us left at Sangam took the afternoon to Skype home to countries that were heading to bed or just beginning to wake up. We then began to prepare for our evening ceremony. Em, our Marketing and Communications intern, wrestled with the feisty Indian Internet to set up a livestream, so that the ceremony was on view online all across the world. That evening, as the ceremony began, more than twenty viewers tuned in, proving yet again the global connection between Guides and Scouts across the world. They watched as we carried in and saluted the World Flag and the flags representing guest, staff, and Tare’s nationalities; they saw us light candles and float them on the pool, symbolizing the ripple effect that our knowledge, and our passing on of that knowledge, will have across society. And though the sound quality was less than perfect, and our livestream viewers could not hear the readings on the importance of diversity and the power of unity, they could see the five paper lanterns--one for each World Centre, including the one to come in Africa--illuminated and ultimately carried away by the fuel of five individual flames.
The ceremony closed around the Thinking Day Tree, from whose branches dangled all of Sangam’s post bearing messages of goodwill for the special day. We sang “Change the World,” a Sangam favorite that includes the line, “The Girl Scouts are our family,” which, on rowdier days, results in the Sangam Volunteers tryingto out-shout each other with the terms “Girl Scouts” and “Girl Guides.” On this occasion, however, the two names of our ten million members blended together, and we stood side-by-side and sang to celebrate the founders of our movement, and the incredible, worldwide family that was born more than one hundred years ago.