Ballygarrett native Una Wafer may not work as a teacher any more – she’s a statistician – but the Sea Shell Girl Guides get the benefit of her love of helping others. And her love of fun, and games and, well, madness…
In fact, Una set up the Ballygarrett unit of the Irish Girl Guides in 2010 – even though she has no daughters! She does have a two-year-old son, but came across the Girl Guides when she lived in Carlow, joined it, loved it, and now the Ballygarrett unit has 62 youth members and 10 leaders.
“My husband and I travelled for a year and one of my goals when I came back was to get more involved in the community. I had camped for years and I loved the energy of the Guides.
“When I moved home to Ballygarrett, my dad took me to meet a neighbour, Amanda, and, together, we set up the Guides unit. My dad passed away two years ago and I like that personal connection he had to my involvement in the Guides. As adults, we make great friends in the Guides and there’s a great sense of achievement when you see girls grow in confidence.
“Those are the special moments for me – when you see a girl doing something she wouldn’t have done otherwise but now has the confidence to do it. We do arts and crafts, games, and camping and the girls learn to mix with others, to pack their own bags, to stay away from home, to be responsible for their own belongings when they’re away from home.”
The away-from-home bit is pretty cool. Una travelled to one of the four World Guiding Centres – in Switzerland – last summer with the Carlow Guides in her role as a Regional Commissioner. “We went hiking in the Swiss Alps, that was special,” she said.
Next August, the Ballygarrett girls and leaders head to Rockwell College, Tipperary, for an international event that will be attended by units from India, Zambia, the US, France, and Canada.
“Over 1700 people have signed up already and a unit from abroad will be integrated with a unit from Ireland during the one-week camp. The girls will learn survival skills, go out and help in the local community for a day, and learn personal skills and bond with other.”
So where does this drive to volunteer come from? “I did the Gaisce President’s Award when I was in school and my parents were involved in almost every committee in Ballygarrett! I’m one of 12 children, so there was a child at every event of some sort or another for years.
“It has also been a great way of meeting people in the community. I know more people in the community than I would if I was getting up at 5am to commute to Dublin – which is what I did for a while.
“Honestly, I love helping people – and I get to play games every Monday night!”
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn