Guides give hope to child soldiers and prostitutes

The guiding movement is seen as innocuous fun in Britain, but across the world it can change the lives of traumatised teenagers

The seven-year-old Brownies listened attentively to a 17-year-old Guide. There was no talk of cooking; camping or craft; instead she warned them solemnly of the very real danger that some of them might be raped.

"Rape is happening all the time here in South Africa's townships. They need to know about it," said Tracy-Lee Heath. "A lot of them catch public transport, and they can be snatched off it quite easily. They need to know where to go to get help afterwards."

While Guides in Britain worry about little more than earning their first aid and swimming badges, girls like these Brownies living in Capetown's townships need skills that could save their lives.

Tracy-Lee's project, and similar work done by 10 million Guides around the world, will be recognised tomorrow in an international acknowledgement of the issues faced by young women around the world.

Guide patrols in other parts of Africa play key roles in dealing with social problems the state cannot, or will not, tackle – transforming the lives of teenage prostitutes and former child soldiers. "You see lots of 11- to 16-year-old girls in prostitution," said Mariama Johnson, the international commissioner for Girlguiding in Sierra Leone. "We can't deal with it all, but we have approached some and helped them to turn their lives around. When we tried to get them off the streets, at first they said they didn't have enough money, so we taught them a trade." The teen prostitutes are encouraged to join, and the groups pay for them to learn skills such as soap making and hairdressing.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guides are working to demilitarise child soldiers. Guiding – along with all youth movements – was banned by the former dictator Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. But now, said Alphonsine Kabakabo, the African director of girlguiding, the movement is at the forefront of work with the traumatised young fighters. "They are given food and encouraged to come back into the community and start guiding. The groups help them to learn new skills and live a normal life."

In the seven years they have been allowed to run, 11,000 girls have joined the guides in the DRC.

The apparently innocuous girls' group has been upset by political upheaval in countries other than the DRC; groups in Iraq which closed at start of the war in 2003 have just begun to reopen.

In Kenya, the Guides focus on education for women, something which is neglected in some traditional African communities. "It is not so bad in the cities, but in the Masai community a girl can be taken out of school as a young adolescent." said Miriam Otieno, 25, a senior Guide.

"We also have a project for girls who can't afford to go to school. We teach them IT, tailoring, and other skills they can use to survive." The group also works to educate young women about the dangers of HIV/Aids.

"Because of the stigma, it is not easy for people to disclose their HIV status. I know a young person who tried to talk about their status in church, and people feared them. The groups are a safe place to talk about this," said Ms Otieno.

But not everyone agrees. Andrea Cornwall, the director of the pathways of women's empowerment research consortium at the Institute of Development Studies, said: "For me, the core issue is that people are asked: what do you want? There is often a moral agenda behind intervention. A lot of these rehabilitation programmes don't do much good for sex workers. Many women don't make enough money from sewing or whatever trade they learn, and go back into sex work."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
healthMeet the volunteer users helping to see if the banned drug can help cure depression and addiction
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
News
Foo Fighters lead man Dave Grohl talks about the band's forthcoming HBO documentary series
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
Simon Stephens interview: The playwright on red-blooded rehearsals, disappointing his children - and why plays are like turtles

Simon Stephens interview

The playwright on red-blooded rehearsals, disappointing his children - and why plays are like turtles
Holidaying with a bike nut: Cycling obsessive Rob Penn convinces his wife to saddle up

Holidaying with a bike nut

Cycling obsessive Rob Penn convinces his wife to saddle up
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef pays homage to South-east Asia's palate-refreshing desserts

Bill Granger's fruity Asian desserts

Our chef's refreshing desserts are a perfect ending to a spicy, soy-rich meal
Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison