WHAT A CHALLENGE: Sarah Canavan (left) and Sarah Kenny (right), who completed the Explorer Belt challenge in Belgium.


“It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience”

By Michelle Crean

While living on just €3.25 a day and completing a 180km hike and 12 projects in 10 days – two Killarney Guide Leaders reached the pinnacle of Guiding!

Sarah Canavan (23) of Knockasartnett and her team-mate, Sarah Kenny (23) of Firieswere among 12 Irish Girl Guides members to take on the Explorer Belt challenge in Belgium – while carrying all their camping and cooking equipment, clothes, food and water.

The challenge is held every three or four years to test the skills young women have learned through their involvement in Guiding.

The two Sarahs, along with 12 Irish Girl Guides, kept a log book and successfully completed a series of projects during their 10-day survival adventure in the Westhoek region. The projects involved finding out about the local culture, history and geography without using a smartphone and doing a service for the local community. Their route took in many of the Flanders Fields historical battle sites as well as towns and countryside and a day at the seaside.

“Overall, it was a great experience,” Sarah Kenny, who works as a dietitian in St James’s Hospital in Dublin, said. “There were many challenges and long days but the people we met along the way were so lovely and so kind. One of the highlights was our first indoor night when we didn’t have to put up our tent, and our lovely hosts made us dinner. Another was finding the most delicious ice-cream after a long day walking.”

There were many challenges along the way but the two Sarahs never felt like giving up. “Some days were hard but I think we were both a bit too stubborn to give up,” said Sarah Kenny.

The highlights were meeting the local people – “everyone was so welcoming” – and learning about World War 1, she added.

“I genuinely didn’t know anything about World War 1 before taking part in the Belt,” Sarah Canavan, a Commerce student at NUI Galway, said.

There were blisters, sunburn and extreme tiredness at times during the 10 days, but these subsided on the last day when they were collected by the organisers.

“The biggest highlight was definitely getting on the bus at the end and collecting all the other teams and hearing their stories,” said Sarah Kenny. “Receiving the Explorer Belt, following the assessment interviews, was such a great feeling. We were extremely nervous beforehand and had convinced ourselves we weren’t going to get it.”

“There was pain at times but I cannot remember the pain now,” Sarah Canavan said. “It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”