In Scouting, international friendship and co-operation comes as second nature, something a World Scout Jamboree underlines time and again. But how do we rise to the challenge of providing opportunities for all young people to work towards a more peaceful world?
Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited by the excellent youth and education charity City Year to a talk by former US President Bill Clinton. President Clinton was addressing City Year volunteers – young people who had committed to a year of service working in schools. A few minutes into his speech he pushed aside his notes and spoke directly to the young people, describing how they will experience the most extraordinary lives impacted by the digital revolution. But in addition, he said, there will be considerable challenges posed by people who incite hatred, division and violence.
The talk was a few days after the horror of the Tunisia attack on 26 June 2015. He concluded that the challenge for current and future generations was for citizens across the globe to co-operate, where people of all backgrounds come together to work towards a more peaceful and equal world. ‘The answer to tomorrow is unity and diversity’ he said.
I reflected on those words as I attended the 23rd World Scout Jamboree in Japan last week. The theme of the Jamboree was ‘a spirit of unity.’ For those who have never attended a World Scout Jamboree what strikes you first is the sheer scale of it. Some 35,000 people attended this time from 150 different countries. The UK sent the largest delegation of over 3,000 young people who experienced the adventure of a lifetime and a truly life-changing fortnight thanks to the incredible efforts of over 1,000 volunteers who took annual leave. We owe those people our respect and gratitude.
As well as the scale of the event what was as extraordinary was the way young people from different countries shared stories and forged friendships united by shared Scouting values.
It was particularly moving to attend Hiroshima with a unit from Kent 70 years after the devastation of the atomic bomb. To see the impact on those inspiring young people as they reflected on the horrors was powerful and unforgettable.
And as I went around the sub camps, I saw people from all nationalities sharing food, singing, laughing and pledging to stay in touch and co-operate in the future.
The international nature of Scouting is such an important part of what we do. If anything I can see its importance only becoming greater over the coming decades, as we have a duty to ensure our youth members are not just active citizens but global citizens – able to see that, whatever one’s nationality, there is more that unites us than divides us.
Through the delivery of our programme and opening up more international experiences we can foster the cultural awareness and literacy that is needed for young people to navigate and make their mark on the world. It’s why not just the Jamboree but wider Scouting events such as the upcoming Moot, Roverway and international expeditions initiated by Scouting across the UK are all so critically important.
As Baden-Powell said at the first World Scout Jamboree ‘Differences exist between the peoples of the world in thought and sentiment, just as they do in language and physique. The Jamboree has taught us that if we exercise mutual forbearance and give and take, then there is sympathy and harmony. If it be your will, let us go forth from here fully determined that we will develop among ourselves…that comradeship…so that we may help to develop peace and happiness in the world.’
That sentiment is as true today as it was in 1920.
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