Were you ever a Scout, or a Girl Guide? Or a Cub Scout or a Brownie? Perhaps you are still a member of the Scouting Movement, maybe as a leader?
When I was a little girl, I put on the 'Brownie' uniform, with a yellow scarf and a leather ‘woggle’, and later I also donned the blue Guide uniform, attending ‘meetings’ and camps where we learnt all sort of interesting skills which eventually allowed me to gain the famous 'badges' which I could sew on the sleeves of my uniform.
Some have been useful all my life. Sewing, which I love to this day. Map-reading/orienteering which I have used very occasionally. I also learned how to make a campfire, although I’ve yet to make use of that. However if I did go camping, I could forage for sticks and build a shelf unit for our plates and pans!
In addition, and most importantly, I also made loads of friends, and had masses of organised fun. And I learned some really important values and lessons which have stood me in good stead over more than five decades.
It was on this day - January 24th - in 1908 that a British soldier called Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell published a manual which was filled with information about self-improvement and what today is called ‘survival training’ – skills to help a person survive in the outdoors.
Baden-Powell had already been working with and inspiring young men in outdoors pursuits and adventure for about a year but his manual - ‘Scouting for Boys’ - inspired the founding of the Boy Scouts Association just two years later. However, it's interesting to note that when they held their first rally at The Crystal Palace in London in 1909 it wasn’t just boys who donned a Scout uniform. Some girls were determined to become ‘Girl Scouts’, so Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes formed the ‘Girl Guides’.
Today the Scout Association is global, and the World Scout Bureau estimate numbers at around 28 Million, although as some countries don't do accurate counts, it could be as many as 40 million. All of these young people having brilliant experiences, meeting new people, gaining new skills (those infamous 'badges') and creating friendships, becoming part of teams and learning values that will last a lifetime.
The Scouting Programme has clear objectives to ‘actively engage and support young people in their personal development, empowering them to make a positive contribution to society’. All their activities are around three main themes - outdoor and adventure, world and skills. Scouting is something a person can be involved in as a member, and a leader, for their entire life.
Changes have and are made to suit the times, without moving away from the core values. Although the Girl Guide movement still flourishes, young women have been part of the Scout movement now for decades.
Wherever they are in the world, all Scouts are expected to adhere to the Scout Promise including the words which commit them to ‘On my honour… do my duty to God ... ’ These days, the wording may vary in different countries determined by the local culture, but the promises are all based on the original Promise and Law conceived by the founder of their movement.
In recent years, there have been some question marks over Baden-Powell's legacy and even allegations of racism, but today the Scouting movement spans the globe encouraging not just self-sufficiency but also a life of sacrifice and community.
Robert Baden-Powell was at the helm of his movement until his retirement in 1937. He and his wife then moved permanently to Kenya in East Africa, and when he died in January 1941 he was buried in the church yard of St Peter's Church in a place called Nyeri in the Central Highlands, within sight of Mount Kenya.
His gravestone, which is now a Kenyan national monument, is inscribed with a circle, with a dot in the centre. It’s the trail sign, which so many scouts and adventurers will recognise, for ‘going home’ or ‘I have gone home’.
I have particular memories of that grave, because at one time when I was living in Kenya as a child, I attended a boarding school in Nyeri, and every Sunday we attended that church. And one of our favourite things to do was to visit that grave. It was a highlight of my week which seems a bit bizarre now, 50 years on.
It’s intriguing what intrigues young people.
So today all I really want to say is this ... let’s give thanks for the men and women who have inspired young people for good in the past, and continue to do so today.
Some are inscribed in history. Others will quietly inspire. But their legacy will live on, if only in the memory of those who they have helped along the way.