When Low Lih Jeng, from Girl Guides Singapore, was elected Chairman of the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Asia Pacific Region, on July 8, 2010, it was a significant ‘first’ - the first time a mother and daughter have served as Chairman of not only the Asia Pacific Region but in any of the WAGGGS regions.
Her mother Mme Chan Siok Fong, served as Chairman of the Region from 1978 – 81. She was the second Chairman to be elected, the first being Sri Lanka’s own Sita Rajasooriya, who passed away last year. Mme Chan served on the Regional Committee from 1975.
|Mother and daughter: Happy to be in Sri Lanka.
The election of the Chairman and Committee for 2010 – 2012 took place at the 10th Asia Pacific Regional Conference held in the Maldives from July 3 – 9. Jeng became the 11th Chairman of the Region.
Jeng and her mother Madame Chan Siok Fong, visited Sri Lanka on their way back to Singapore, after the conference. Mme Chan, who has also served as Chairman of the Asia Pacific Region has many friends in Sri Lanka whom she was keen to catch up with. The two Guiders spoke to the Sunday Times at the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Headquarters, where an informal tea was arranged for them.
As she was new to the Regional Committee, Jeng said she would like to talk to the member organizations before planning a programme of work. “Our aim is to ensure the programme continues to be relevant to the changing world,” Jeng said. “Guiding was so successful in the first hundred years because we gave girls an opportunity to discover a new world. Now the world has changed. What is the woman of tomorrow to be? What qualities should she have? We need to instil those qualities in them.”
Low Lih Jeng has had a long association with the Girl Guides, having joined the Brownies as a girl of 9 years. She has been a Brownie, Girl Guide and Cadet of the Senior Branch. “I came back to the Guide companies to help run them,” said Jeng, who has served as a Guider since the mid 80s. “However, my service was interrupted due to work and studies,” she added. She has been a member of the National Council, Girl Guides Singapore, and recently finished four years as Honorary Secretary.
Asia Pacific Region is one of five regions in WAGGGS. The Regional Committee has six members who are elected initially for three years, with the possibility of being re-elected for a further three years. Jeng was elected to the Committee for the first time, and also elected Chairman on the same day, which is said to be the first time a new Committee member was elected Chairman.
Having been a university lecturer in English and law related disciplines, Jeng now serves as a District Judge and Deputy Registrar, Subordinate Courts in Singapore. She has worked with the United Nations refugee agency, and travelled extensively, also serving in Indonesia, Hong Kong and India. She says her listening skills improved with her service as a district judge, which helps in her post as Chairman of the Asia Pacific Region.
Having joined as a Girl Guide in 1948, Mme Chan became a Guider in 1954. She has worked her way up through the ranks serving as District Commissioner, Division Commissioner, Headquarters Commissioner and finally as Chief Commissioner Girl Guides Singapore for ten years before her election as Chairman of the Asia Pacific Region in 1978. “I am now a member of the Trefoil Guild, an association of former Girl Guides, and go back to help whenever they need testers for the Girl Guide badge tests.”
Mme Chan said the Asia Pacific Region originally had only four member countries, which increased to 12. “When I completed the Chairmanship in 1981, we had 19 member organisations. Now there are 25 countries, which includes SAARC countries India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangaldesh, Maldives, ASEAN countries, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines as well as Korea, Thaiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific islands,” Mme Chan said.
The dynamic duo have enjoyed their visit to Sri Lanka. Mme Chan has been here before but it is the first time for Low Lih Jeng. “We have been to Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Minneriya and Dambulla,” Jeng said. “You have a beautiful country. We are very happy the war has ended. I look forward to coming back in March for the first committee meeting of the new Regional Committee, which will be held in Sri Lanka.”