This Christmas, the Herald is profiling 12 charities chosen to get a $12,000 grant from Auckland Airport as part of its 12 Days of Christmas giving programme – now in its twelfth year. The $144,000 comes from generous travellers who donate money in globes throughout the airport.

When 31-year-old unit leader Katie Collins goes to the supermarket in her Guide uniform, people often ask her if the Guides still exist. "There are lots of misconceptions about what it is that Girl Guides do. People think it's just selling biscuits but it's a lot more than that," she says.

Girl Guiding NZ is one of 12 charities to receive a $12,000 grant from Auckland Airport's Twelve Days of Christmas giving programme.

The Hamilton-based Ranger leader has a PhD in freshwater ecology and works in the Department of Conservation's Living Water partnership with Fonterra to improve biodiversity and freshwater management on farms.

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A former Girl Guide, she returned to the organisation as a volunteer while studying at university 10 years ago and has helped develop a series of "Discovery" events that open up the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) to girls aged 5 to 17.

Girl Guides on a camping trip. Photo / Supplied
Girl Guides on a camping trip. Photo / Supplied

"I love how kids have a real sense of wonder that adults have lost. They can literally be excited about anything. Guides gives you an opportunity to do all sorts of really cool, fun stuff with them - off devices, interacting and learning real-life skills," she says.

The $12,000 from Auckland Airport will be used to help fund the design and co-ordination of a five-day camp in Auckland next month focusing on animals and the environment. Girl Guiding NZ has teamed up with Unitec to give the girls time doing hands-on experiments in its molecular lab and animal handling in its Vet Centre. They'll also do field ecology looking at invertebrates in the Waitākere Ranges.

"All of these girls signed up because they have an interest in the environment or animals," says Collins. "This will help them explore that further. Being in a university lab working on the same stuff as undergrads will be really cool exposure for girls aged 10 to 15. It will help them decide if it's something they want to pursue as a career. They'll go home exhausted but absolutely fizzing."

Girl Guide leader Katie Collins (centre left) helps girls build a campfire. (L-R) Georgia Kong, Katie Collins, Hannah Wells, Hayley Clinton. Photo / Supplied
Girl Guide leader Katie Collins (centre left) helps girls build a campfire. (L-R) Georgia Kong, Katie Collins, Hannah Wells, Hayley Clinton. Photo / Supplied

Socialising is another skill the girls develop on camp says Collins, who helped set up tramping trips in Abel Tasman and Taranaki last year. "Girls come from all over the country. It'll all be a bit awkward when they first arrive; they won't know what they've got themselves into but by the second and third days they'll be in their own little groups, the best of friends. They'll have the opportunity to reconnect at Jamboree in January 2021," she says.

Advocacy skills are also developed at Guides. Once learning about a problem, the girls are encouraged to decide what they can do about it themselves. "It's giving them practical action they can effect themselves," she says.

Auckland Airport's general manager of corporate services Mary-Liz Tuck says Girl Guiding gives young women the opportunity to discover their passions, contribute to their communities and form friendships in a safe and positive environment.

"We're thrilled to provide a unique opportunity for girls to learn, upskill and then use that knowledge to take action to change their communities," she says.

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