By Paddy Henry
NUI Galway student and local leader with the Galway City Senior Branch of the Irish Girl Guides, Sarah Canavan, has reached the summit of the Guides’ world, completing the Explorer Belt, a gruelling 10–day survival challenge, involving a 180km hike along Belgium’s Westhoek region, while living on €3.25 a day and carrying all her camping equipment on her back.
Sarah, a commerce student, has been involved in the Irish Girl Guides since the age of six. She undertook the herculean task alongside her teammate and long–time friend Sarah Kenny, who were 2 of the 12 members of the Irish Girl Guides to take on the challenge.
The 23-year-old was tasked with completing a series of projects during her 10-day long survival adventure, which involved finding out about the local history, geography and culture, without the help of a smartphone.
The Guides also helped local communities along the way and met local people, which Sarah hailed as the highlight of the excursion.
The commerce student described her time touring the Westhoek region as weird, but memorable nonetheless, “Weird is the only word I can use to describe it. There was pain but I cannot remember the pain now. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience”.
“The whole thing was weird. We arrived in Dublin Airport on the 29th of July, we didn’t know where we were going until we were handed a golden envelope saying Belgium!”
Sarah encountered no shortage of difficulties along the way to achieving the most prestigious accolade in Guiding. Having no access to mobile devices made keeping track of the distance covered challenging, with the group having to resort to measuring completed kilometres on a map, coupled with having €75 to spend between them for the entire trip.
The strenuous nature of the task tested the resolve of the team, with Sarah recalling feeling like giving up after the second day. “We had beans for lunch and we had nowhere to wash the pot, so we used baby wipes to clean it. I was also very sunburnt and extremely tired.”
The adventurers were also tasked with finding their own places to stay along the way, “Knocking on people’s doors asking to find a place to stay was scary”, Sarah remarked.
Yet, despite the ferocity of the challenge that faced the remarkable group of young women, they successfully completed the monumental task at hand and were awarded the Irish Girl Guides Explorer Belt, acknowledging their achievement in overcoming the toughest challenge the organisation has to offer.
When asked how she balances her life as a scout leader with her busy schedule as a student in university, Sarah noted that balancing her education with her life as a scout leader is something she is used to doing. “It’s something that I’ve always done. I also do a lot of volunteering, as a member of the National Action Panel at SpunOut.ie, I just find that I get more out of it than I put in!”
Describing how she felt prior to receiving the coveted award, Sarah stated, “The few minutes before our names were called were worse than all the exam results I’ve ever received mixed into one! Once our names were called out, there were a few tears! Myself and Sarah Kenny had been gearing up for this for years. It really was a big eye opener!”