Girl guides get set for trip of a lifetime

The girl guides will set off on Wednesday, July 31, and return in late August. (S)
The girl guides will set off on Wednesday, July 31, and return in late August. (S)

An altruistic team of girl guides is travelling nearly 6,000 miles to an African island to build houses, mental hospitals and help people suffering from tropical diseases.

The North Yorkshire West Guides, headed by Ripon’s Gemma Martin, are setting off to Madagascar on Wednesday, July 31 to take part in the challenging trip, which will involve working with people suffering from leprosy, malnutrition, polio and tuberculosis.

“There is a mixture of trepidation and excitement among the girls at the moment,” Gemma, 30, told the Gazette.

“We saw a lot of upsetting things the last time we visited, such as a child who died because the nearest medical care was 70km away. But the girls who worked on the last trip saw that and were inspired to do as much as they could for the charity.”

Gemma, who works as a paramedic, and her team of 12 girl guides have had a busy 18 months fundraising for the trip, made possible by the TASC Madagscar charity. The charity aims to relieve poverty and sickness, improve health and advance education in a country where only three in every 10 rural citizens have access to clean water and adequate sanitation. One of TASC’s trustees is Ripon city Coun and Gemma’s dad Stuart Martin, who has been involved in the charity for 11 years.

“Girls from previous trips have said the experience has changed their perspective completely on life and made them realise how lucky we really are,” said Gemma, who last travelled to Madagascar with the girl guides three years ago.

“In some ways I have become accustomed to it, but one of the girls on the trip has never been in an aeroplane before. The girls also have to be together all day, every day, for nearly three weeks, and it can be hard doing that as well as trying to adapt to a different culture’s customs.”

In preparation for the claustrophobic conditions of 12 girls aged between 15 and 18 living together, Gemma arranged a sleepover with the team on June 29, so the volunteers could get to know each other and become friends. But for Gemma, the most important aspects of the challenge are helping the people of Madagascar – and allowing the girls to understand how they can improve lives with their charitable efforts.

Recalling her 2010 trip, she said: “We saw two women walking without shoes in the road, so we gave them a French bread stick and some blankets. As we drove away, we saw they were dancing in the road, as if all their Christmasses had come at one. That’s what makes it all worth it.

“We would like to thank everyone who has helped and supported us in our fundraising efforts to make this trip possible.”