by Lorraine Waldropt-Ferguson
Not too far from the corner of Rust Street, St. Clair sits a stalwart house, Girl Guide Headquarters (also known as the Guide Shop), home to the Trinidad and Tobago Girl Guide Association for many years.
When you walk up the steep stairs of the historical building you meet a stalwart woman. Spanish-Trini descent, short hair, Doreen Sampson, secretary, Guider (leader), Girl Guide Trainer since 1972, is as intrinsic to the Guide Shop as the old pictures of past Commissioners and the plaque with the Girl Guide pledge.
Since the early 1970s to now she has been a major force in the smooth sailing of the Girl’s Guide Movement in T&T but what is even more phenomenal is that she may be in her 70s or 80s (I am guessing her age) and she still serves at the Rust Street headquarters.
“I remember the time when I started working here in 1972, before most of you born … (laughs). Some months before I began as secretary, I was asked by Girl Guide Training Commissioner, Phyliss Brown, to help out at the Guide Shop. I told her I don’t mind once I could use my old typewriter home and do the work.
“I wanted to help out; all my three girl children were in Guides. I worked behind the scenes. Then another day when I was shopping in Woolworth, that was where Excellent is now, you ent go know bout there you too young darling, I bounce up Magaret Cordner who was Chief Commissioner. “She asked me to come and work in the shop permanently. I said I would think about it. Then girl, I got this letter from the secretary of Girls Guides, Grace. It smelt like lavender and they were asking me yet again to reconsider and come and work for the movement. I decided to go for it and I began working at $300 a month!” Sampson recalls.
Her expression is animated and her eyes reflect years of Girl Guiding stories.
“Girl after that I was in Girl Guides for life. I trained as a Girl Guide leader and I got my training certificate to train other guides. I worked in the shop and led two groups. I was the captain (leader) of Sixth Port of Spain Guides at Woodbrook Secondary School and then I was the Tony Owl (Assistant Leader) at Second Port-Of-Spain Brownies.”
As we chatted lightly, two guiders walk into the headquarters in search of Girl Guide uniforms for upcoming enrolment ceremonies and functions and another one comes in search of badges for guides who were successful in their quest for decorated armbands. Sampson interrupts our discussion to deal with her regular charges.
A few minutes later, the two women leave the Guide Shop with their expectations met and all their purchases in hand.
“I know all the guiders and the guides as well. They all come here to get their guiding paraphernalia. I was working here dealing with their grandmothers, mothers and now I even deal with their children. Guiding is a generational thing. Sometimes four generations pass through guides. It’s a thing that once you get in you never get out. As if the girl guiding spirit gets into your blood and your bones!” she avows.
Three young girls then walk into the shop and I reckon that they are guides, not leaders. The former student of Pamphillian High school (an old school from yesteryear) turns to the girls and declares: “If you can just give me a few minutes and I will attend to you soon. You all have time right? Patience is virtue you know, I sure your guiders teach you that!”
I observe her mannerisms and I get the impression that she is a disciplinarian.
“What do you like most about guiding?” I inquire. “Girl, I have so many things that I love about guiding that your paper might finish. In guides you learn life skills. You learn how to interact with others, how to be compassionate, how to appreciate other cultures, how to share and care for others, how to interact, preserve and love nature and to be hospitable.
“I remember once some guiders called me from the airport, some foreign guiders were in transit through Trinidad and needed immediate overnight accommodation, I had to go and pick them up and bring them home by me.”
There is more — my paper is nearly finished.
“In camping you learn how live in harsh conditions. You learn how to master your skills and better manoeuvre your roles as a woman. Your badges afford you skills — cooking, cleaning, playing an instrument, sewing. It’s such a joy to see the girls who were under my guidance as a guider prosper. They all come back and say: ‘Ms Sampson I so glad that I was in guides. Thanks for everything!’ This makes me happy and I feel proud as if I were their mothers.”
“Which girl/woman you think you steered the most on the right path?” I ask.
“Oh gosh, you want them vex with me or what? I can’t call no names because if I miss out anybody they will feel bad. Many women have benefited from Guides under my charge and under the guidance of the many dedicated guiders in the T&T Girl Guide Association. Guiding is a disciplining agent. These days parents are abandoning their roles as disciplinarians in the home.
“While I won’t say that Guides is a substitute I will say that it is a good complementary institution to instil good values in girls so that they become great women,” states the Caribbean Trainer who has trained guiders throughout the Caribbean region.
Sampson then tells me that she has travelled far and wide through the Girl Guide moment.
“My most memorable trip was the World Girl Guide Conference in Denmark where I represented T&T. But apart from travelling and seeking the well being of the nation’s youth, my joy is working in the Guide Shop. I don’t come as early as I used to but I still put in my day’s work at this vintage house that so many historical women passed through as Commissioners,” claims the Arouca resident. I can’t resist and I can’t guess anymore.
“How old are you Ms. Sampson?” She responds with a loud chuckle. “Let’s just say that I cross 80 and I close to a 100. You really think that I was going to tell you my age? You must never ask a woman her age. Hmmmm — you not easy yes!”
Her wit, her quick tongue but most of all her grace, I thoroughly enjoy talking to this veteran guider who has given most of her life to administrative and training of the local Guiding units. A unique sight indeed is the Girl Guide Headquarters but not as unique as its custodian Ms Doreen Sampson!