Back in March, my family and friends rallied to send my Scouts to summer camp. Together, they raised over $800 and sent twelve of my Scouts to summer camp in the Venda region, in the northernmost corner of South Africa. To Parker and Kayse, Paige and Will, Idris, Will, John, Kevin and Erica, Keith, Ricky and Brooke, Sara Elizabeth and Will, Bryan and Tori, Spike and Cathy, and Lisa: re a leboga thata. La thusa masupatsela a ka go igodisa. (Thank you so, so much. You helped my Scouts grow.)
My Peace Corps colleague, fellow Troop Scouter, and good friend Sean O’Malley wrote this piece for the Peace Corps South Africa newsletter. He kindly allowed me to republish it at 200 North Thompson St.
“Patrol leaders, next we are going to play capture the flag. Do you remember the rules we talked about yesterday at our planning meeting? Good, now go prepare your patrol. I will know you are ready when everyone is standing silently at ease.” Connects better with a group of youths than, “Ok, everyone, we are playing capture the flag. Half you over here and half you over there…” while waving your hands and sweating profusely in the hot South African sun.
Recently, I was at a meeting with a mixture of Peace Corps Volunteers where the question was posed, “What do you like best about the people in Peace Corps?” One participant said they liked that Peace Corps has many great facilitators to ensure that everyone is included and there is always something fun to do. This is so true. It seems whenever I am at a Peace Corps event, formal or informal, someone takes the initiative to accomplish something, whether it is addressing a topic in a discussion, making a dance party happen or eating together.
When my friend and fellow volunteer, Zach Gershkoff, asked if I wanted to join him at his Scouts camp, I was all in. One of the main reasons I feel comfortable organizing a group of my friends to accomplish something is because of the years I spent in Scouting. From an early age, adults instilled in me confidence and challenged me to lead my peers in attainable but rigorous tasks. For the past year and some months, I have been trying to be that adult for a group of youths in my village at our weekly Scouts meeting.
Zach assigned my troop to lead sessions in pioneering, which basically meant to teach knots and sharpen an axe. The content, though useful, was not the main objective. The assignment of pioneering meant I had six weeks of clear content to steer our troops’ meetings and give a chance for my Patrol Leaders to lead their patrol of Scouts in learning different skills and accomplishing different activities.
Every Scouts’ meeting has its challenges. From language barriers to random village visitors, we have to roll with the punches. To help smooth out some of these rough edges, we have a planning meeting with our Patrol Leaders and adult leaders, known as Troop Scouters, the day before the whole troop meeting. Here, we discuss and practice the meetings’ agenda, so the Patrol Leaders can be the vocal leaders at the meetings and the adults can merely stand back and keep track of time.
By the end of the six weeks of preparation, I was confident my Scouts were ready to teach pioneering. They would have two hours to teach 60 others Scouts, from 5 different villages who speak 4 different languages. It was an awesome challenge, but as the Scout Law says, “A Scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties.”
On day 3 of the 5 day camp, my troop had the morning sessions to teach pioneering. By this point in the camp, my Scouts had already pitched their first tent, slept their first night in a tent, learned how to use a compass, used the sun to orient themselves and had cooked 5 meals for themselves and their troop. They would still learn First Aid, cook their first s’mores, go on a 10 km hike and observe their natural surroundings to see how they can protect the environment. Today, they were each in charge of teaching a ten minute session 5 times with a fellow Scout.
Before the session started, I called my Patrol Leaders over and told them, “You and your patrols have worked hard. Be sure to tell everyone to try their best and have fun.” After the Patrol Leaders saluted and headed back to their patrols to organize their Scouts, I could tell they were proud of their leadership and were confident that the other troops were going to learn something new today.
The first 10 minute session seemed to go smoothly, but I was a bit preoccupied with figuring out fellow PCV and Troop Scouter Howell Burke’s watch. I shouted out, “Rotate!” My Scouts thanked the troop they had just taught and moved to the new troop. With the watch figured out, I was able to focus and see my Scouts at work. Even though they had only been with this new batch of Scouts for a few days, my Venda speaking Scouts were getting through to their fellow Setswana, Sepedi and Tsonga speaking Scouts. Some were even trying to stumble through their non-native tongue much like a PCV would.
When it was all said and done, I was happy. Not because 72 Scouts can shorten a rope without sacrificing its strength by making a sheepshank or knew the different process and purpose for chopping and splitting wood. I was happy because my Scouts had spent a week leading and learning on their own. They lived the Scout’s motto of “Be Prepared” and took steps towards being a great facilitator, just like you are today.