Scouts around the world are celebrating their 100th anniversary, and the organization, despite having passed through some difficult years, is as vigorous as ever.
Scouting began officially in 1907 in England after Lord Robert Baden-Powell, a hero of the Boer war in South Africa, discovered that the military manual he wrote on observation and tracking techniques was a hit among teenage boys. That year, he took a group of 20 boys on a camping trip to BatterseaIsland to parlay that information into practical use, and the scouting movement began.
Girls, too, wanted to improve their skills and develop new ones. This was a time when the women’s suffrage movement was strong in many countries. In 1916, Baden-Powell’s sister Agnes started Girl Guides to give the feminine side an equal chance.
About the same time, a visiting North American from the U.S. state of Georgia, Juliette Gordon Low, known as Daisy, realized this was the type of activity that would appeal to girls back in the United States, and started the Girl Scout movement in her home country.
The early years were devoted to camping and crafts to build character and develop skills and leadership. With expansion of scouting around the world, the organization worked toward international understanding through jamborees, worldwide meetings to show off skills in the outdoors.
Scouts today still follow step-by-step programs in the scout handbook to earn some of the 70 badges in fields ranging from information technology to water skills and plane spotting, sports and culture.
Scouting has expanded the age levels, too, with Beavers and Daisies for 5- to 6-year-old boys and girls, and Mariner Scouts and an adult level for former scouts. There are now 28 million scouts in 216 countries and territories.
Recently in Costa Rica, more than 10,000 scouts (boys) and guides (girls), in blue pants and shirts topped with triangular blue and white bandannas, gathered for regional activities, with the largest concentration in the Plaza de la Democracia in San José, for fun and getting to know scouts from across the nation. Former Girl Guide and now Costa Rican Vice-President Laura Chinchilla wore her blue uniform and tie when she addressed the scouts and renewed with them the scout pledge to honor God and country, help others and follow the scout rules.
Scouting in Costa Rica began in 1915 to “enjoy open air activities, promote moral values, explore and learn about the world and share knowledge as a complement to school and family.”
Unfortunately, the early years were not recorded for history. In 1922, a Girl Guide troop was formed at the Colegio Superior de Señoritas.
Today, the Guides and Scouts Association of Costa Rica has regional offices, a main office in San José and a Web page at www.siemprelistos.org.
Scouting Is Forever
This year, the scouting movement marks its first 100 years. Those of us who went through the ranks of scouting, from Brownies and Cubs to intermediate and senior scouts, still find use for all those crafts and skills we learned at camp or while earning badges.
We discovered lashing or how to build bridges without nails. We learned how to lay a campfire and light it with only one match. We became acquainted with cultures and people around the world and with scouts who lived on the other side of town. And we gained knowledge of parliamentary procedures, including accountability for behavior and for paying dues.
The scout motto is “Be prepared.” But there were incidents for which neither the scout handbook nor our ever-patient leaders could have prepared us. Like the time we knocked the eagle off the top of the flagpole while marching it through a low doorway.
Or the time we pitched a pup tent upside down. Or getting the zipper stuck on a sleeping bag and having to hop around looking for someone with pliers to unzip it.
And the time a truck stopped at three in the morning at a campsite and a man stalked toward the ring of tents full of sleeping scouts, and the counselors got all tangled up pulling on clothes and crawling through the tent flap to investigate, only to find the milkman delivering the milk.
Or the time the troop toured a cheese factory in January bundled up in Wisconsin winter clothes, and half the scouts nearly passed out from the heat.
Or a senior scout stepping in a cow plop while leading younger girls on a hike.
Or planning a party with REAL BOYS as a step in earning the hostess badge.
And climbing through a barbed-wire fence with a gallon can of Kool-Aid strapped on your back and having it leak while inching between barbs.
And falling down 72 concrete steps in a race to go swimming, or finding pajamas flying from the flagpole as 150 scouts lined up for flag ceremony. And the Brownie at an international festival who thought Hungarian was a type of fish.
And the troop of 7- and 8-year-olds coached and choreographed by a neighbor from Hawaii performing a hula dance at a church hall, dressed in crepe-paper grass skirts and bras, and the priest declaring that in the future the girls must wear undershirts.
Even so, I am proud to have been a scout and the only girl in MilwaukeeCounty to earn the beekeeping badge. They had to special-order it for me.
Scouting is fun. It’s educational. And we came out of it better prepared for adulthood.