At times little insignificant incidents grow in meaning as one looks back at them. 

The following happened during this year’s Fish Hoek Teddy Sleepover. “ Teddies” is the junior branch of the Girl Guide Association, for little girls aged 4 ½ to 7. In the morning after sleeping over we were hiking up to Peer’s Cave. The distance is just about one kilometre, but the path is steep and sandy. We took frequent breaks for the Teddies to catch their breath.  During one such break little Caroline* burst into tears.  “I can’t do this,“ she gulped between sobs.  “My legs won’t go.  I can’t go on.  I want my mommy!”

I called the distraught little girl to me, hoping that she won’t set the others off, and gently got rid of most of the “snot en trane”.  I put my hand on her heaving chest, and asked her what on earth I was feeling.  “My h-h-heart,” she hiccupped.  “This does not feel like any old heart,” I replied. “It feels like a brave heart.  In fact, I am sure of it.  It must be a brave heart!”

She looked a little puzzled, but I continued, “Now that brave heart of yours has a job to do – it has to find your tough spot.  Once it has found your tough spot, you will be ok, I promise.”

The tears had stopped by then, and she nodded.  I gave her a job to do: she was the one who had to announce when we were to start walking again.  Amazingly, this happened very soon!  And then I heard this little voice behind me muttering softly, “I can do this, I can do this.”  A little further, a joyful exclamation, “I CAN do this, I CAN DO THIS!”  The rest of the hike was punctuated by her exultant cries of joy and wonder at how high we were, how much she could see, and the fun she was having.  On the way down she asked me if this was a real hike and if she was a real hiker now.  What a change!

I spoke to her mother a few days later, who said Caroline had kept talking about the hike and about finding her “tough spot” – she had wondered what this tough spot was!

It gave me deep satisfaction to enable these little girls to experience a new but age appropriate challenge and to facilitate interactions with the natural environment.  When I looked back on this little incident, it illustrated what being a Girl Guide Guider was all about: not to cajole or force, not to discourage and allow the child to bail out, but to enable the child to find her own inner strength to conquer her fear and distress, and in so doing, enable her to explore and participate in the ever widening world around her.

*not her real name

Eva van Belle