Things You May not Know About GOTA
Guides on the Air (GOTA), called Thinking Day on the Air (TDOTA) outside of Canada was started to celebrate 75 years of Girl Guides. It is an opportunity for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts to talk to other Guides & Scouts around the world over two-way amateur radio, and to receive an introduction to the exciting hobby of amateur radio (ham radio).
Thinking Day on the Air is well-supported by UK Guide Association who maintain a very helpful web page at http://www.guides-on-the-air.co.uk/ . Liz Jones, M0ACL, a Guider and ham radio operator maintains this page and a Yahoo group which helps a great deal with coordinating stations on the air for this event.
GOTA/TDOTA is always held on the third full weekend in February so that hams and Guiders alike can plan ahead for participation. Guides on the Air is also often held at Guide camps as one of the activities available to Guides at camp. Several such camps that come to mind are Heritage Explosion in Nova Scotia 2011, Camp Blomidon in 1996, and Guiding Mosaic in Guelph Ontario in 1993.
My first Guides on the Air experience was in 1991. At that time I was a Guider (Brown Owl) and my husband was the ham radio operator. I loved it, but hated bothering my husband to “do” Guides on the air. By February 1992, I had my very own, brand new amateur radio license, but no experience. A few girls came to the house and we “did” Guides on the Air. My lack of experience really hurt, but we talked to a very nice man outside Ottawa and the girls had a great time. By 1992, my daughter also had her license and that year, we not only talked to various Guide stations, but to my daughter VE2ZOO, and her friends, who was at Guide camp.
In the years since 1991, I have only missed one Guides on the Air, when we were out of the country for Guide-Scout Week. In 2004, in my new Guiding home in Nova Scotia, I encountered a Brownie Guider who was as passionate about GOTA as I am. In the years since 2004, she has helped me out by organizing GOTA from the District perspective.
In 2012, Laura recruited 42 participants, from Sparks to Trefoil Guild, to come to the amateur radio station in my house and take part in GOTA. Laura sets up shifts of 1 hour each, and groups are usually about 5 or 6 girls plus a few adults. Laura also recruits Rangers to help with supervision of the girls while I am busy with the radio. The Rangers look after signing in the girls, making sure that they get name tags, participation certificates, badges, and so on. They supply word searches for the girls to use while they await their turns on the radio and supervise the girls making out the QSL cards that we send out to each station that we talk to. At my station each girl “fills out” a QSL card (a postcard confirming the contact) for each person to whom she speaks during GOTA. She uses the back of the card to send a note or a picture. I fill in the contact information, call signs, etc.
Our station, VA1YL, in Canard Nova Scotia, talked to a total of 44 stations. Only a few had Girl Guides on hand. We talked to a total of 23 young girls and their Guiders, as well as a number of male amateur radio operators and some female operators. The girls love it when they get to speak to actual Guides, but they also enjoy having a turn on the radio & speaking with a man who is helpful by asking questions the girls can relate to and telling them interesting things. Although it is exciting to talk to Guides, often a contact with an experienced ham operator can be more rewarding.
In Britain, each Guide is only allowed to make one transmission and she must prepare a speech which she reads out. In Canada and the USA, the girls can speak on the microphone and say pretty much anything they want as long as there is a licensed amateur in charge of the radio.
We talked to stations in USA, England, Scotland, Norway, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, Spain, Serbia, and Canada. Two of our best “catches” were GB0HDG in Horsham, England, where Emma,a young Guider and ham operator was able to speak to each of the girls brave enough to take the mike and Brenna N0GSA s 13 year old Girl Scout in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who spoke to our bravest Guide, and also put her 10 year old sister, also a Girl Scout, on the air. When Girl Guides of Canada stopped supplying participation crests, Alberta Guide Shop picked up the slack and they have been selling crests ever since. The certificates can be made locally.