By Lara Pickford-Gordon
“Scouts experience adventure and have fun taking part in activities as diverse as kayaking, hiking, expeditions overseas, photography, climbing and archery. As a Scout you can learn survival skills… It’s a great way for every young person to have fun, make friends, get outdoors, express your creativity and experience the wider world.”
This is how the website of the Trinidad & Tobago Scouting Association (scouts.tt) describes the scouts. The COVID-19 pandemic has not put a halt to all activities. On the contrary, they continue, with assistance from technology.
According to National Scout Commissioner Mark Ainsley John, the Scout’s motto is ‘Be Prepared’ so last year as Youth Training Programme Coordinator, he worked with the management and leadership of ScoutsTT to create ‘Fulfilling the Promise’.
The strategy drew on the past experiences of the Scout Movement when young people did scout programmes on their own, “when Troops and Groups were not anywhere close to where they lived”. They were called ‘Lone Scouts’.
John explained, they “would use the written programme as their guide and work towards achieving their progress badges”. The pandemic prompted a return to this approach in March 2020 but with a different format. “We marry the 21st century technology and have them complete their programme activities online through our virtual space; that is how ‘Fulfilling the Promise’ was born.”
There are four sections in the Scout Movement: Cub Scouts, 7–10 years; Scouts 11–15; Venture Scouts 15–21 years; and Rovers 21–23 years.
Online meetings were held and ideas for programmes were discussed and disseminated. “What we have been doing is sharing programme ideas with leaders to add to the [programme] books the young people have,” John said. Presentations for topics or addresses by featured speakers, eg, Chief Scout President Paula Mae Weekes, and Archbishop Jason Gordon, were done via video, thereby still reaching the young people.
The ‘Walk with Faith’ series was done March this year focusing on the religious observances of Holy Week (March 28–April 4) and the Hindu Festival Holi (March 28).
Camping was not stopped with the “hybridisation” of actions through the virtual and physical space. “The youth have not stopped doing any Scout activities at all and the young people can continue to progress through our award scheme,” John said.
February 20–21 this year, the ScoutsTT hosted its first virtual weekend camp in celebration of the Founder’s (Robert Baden-Powell) Day. There were 500 participants registered.
John said, “we held a virtual campfire that was really enjoyable. Young people recorded themselves doing dances, playing musical instruments, singing songs, and uploaded them to be shown during the activity. They also sang together with the leaders present, by putting their microphones and videos on.” The only thing missing from the campfire he added, was “the smell of woodsmoke burning through the night”.
For the virtual camp, parents got involved as “proxy leaders” to assist their children in activities like visiting a historic site, recycling project, learning sign language.
They also had to talk about and share messages about things that were affecting them psychologically during the pandemic and work towards finding solutions to the issues.
“During this exercise you get to bond with your parents and just talk to them. This can’t happen in a regular setting, when you are in your regular patrol the parents are not there,” John said.
The pandemic has forced families to spend more time together and put a strain on relationships. John said the scouts recognised this and came up with bonding exercises such as ‘Zen in Nature’.
“Persons were to go outside with their families and find a peaceful place to sit and enjoy nature.” Suggested activities include sharing a meal, playing a game, doing physical exercise, praying for each other and with each other for the nation and the world.
John said one family created their own campfire at night, toasted marshmallows and talked about the challenges of being at home during the pandemic.
“All of our parents reached out to leaders after to say they truly appreciate the Scout Movement now, because all of this would have happened in schools or in groups away from families…they are now getting to experience the Scout Movement themselves.”