Shelter for homeless refugees is home to Bicentennial Scout Group with 102 Scouts
Since we were young Scouting has been giving us refugees a way of life that we are proud about. The Leaders organized clean-up activities, bingo games and dance events apart from regular Scout programmes.
- ENIO PERDOMO
Twelve year Keyla Acuña had never seen the sea, but the young boy had the opportunity of a luxury premiere. "Oh! So, this is the beach!" he says, stepping foot into turquoise blue waters of Mochima. Keyla has lived for a year in the ‘Bicentennial Shelter’, a refugee camp located in Passage Zingg (home of the Geographical Institute of Venezuela). During his days at the Shelter, Keyla became a Scout, thanks to Freddy Martínez and four other adults who had the initiative to form a Scout Group in the place that is home to 376 homeless families in Caricuao and Vargas areas.
"We sat down to think that people living in shelters are much in need of outdoor life," said Martínez, Leader of the Bicentennial Scout Group in the refugee camp. And the 102 young people belonging to this Group had a dream opportunity to gather at the premises of the Ministry of Environment of Venezuela. During this gathering the Scouts not only learnt to love nature but also had opportunities, to explore and learn about values of coexistence & teamwork, to be aware of their life & what is happening outside in the world, and to shape themselves to be leaders in the future.
It was not easy to sow the seeds of Scouting at the Shelter. Initial comments from people living in the Shelter were, ‘this kind of an activity is not needed for either adults or children living in shelters’ and ‘you are dumb to wear that scarf’. In the initial attempts to start engaging with the community living in the Shelter with Scouting, "there were more than 300 people and they wanted us Scouts to serve their food where they were seated" recollects Martínez. In the early days, Martínez went there every evening after work, he went there with other enthusiastic Scout Leaders and they simply obliged to any task that was requested by those living in the Shelter in order to win their confidence, so they would allow their children to join Scouting.
In the process, 13 year old Darwin learnt to read and write, another boy of 11 years quit smoking. "I exchanged the cigarette with the smoke from the bonfire in Scouting, I have spent five months without smoking", said the boy, who recently left the shelter when his family was assigned a home outside the camp, but continues to be part of the Scout Group.
The adults in the Shelter are most grateful for the transformation that has happened in the children and youth that have joined Scouting. “My grandson has changed the manner in which he talks to people, this is truly showing that life has changed for those who have joined Scouting from the Shelter” says Carmen, a proud grandmother of a Scout form the Bicentennial Scout Group. Talking of the same Scout, Martínez says, "he always arrives early, is very observant, motivates his teammates, he is like Jiminy Cricket, the group's conscience".
Now, it seems like the Scouts are running all the exciting action in the Shelter. They conduct workshops to paint the place, play bingo games with everyone and organise dance programmes to raise funds. The Scouts teach adults how to recycle trash, take the lead in cleaning and are planning awareness programmes to help people reduce the wastage of electricity. The most significant change for the parents has been that the Scouts now have improved grades at school.
The Scouts in the Group are between 7 and 21 years of age and are divided into four patrols. There are eight adults from the Shelter that have become Scout leaders. In the last six months, besides going to Mochima which was Keylo Acuña’s debut visit to the beach, the Scouts have gone to visit the caves of Guácharo and the Yacambú dam. On a visit to Playa Escondida, the Scouts collected plastic bottles and glass pieces that were littered around by visitors. During the clean-up activity, the Scouts also created awareness among the people present at that time on the importance of waste disposal and recycling.
Martínez speaks highly of the support they have received from the authorities in the Ministry of Environment, whom he attributes as a key factor in the success of the initiative to take Scouting to the Shelters. "They paid for the Scout uniforms and also provide food and transportation for some of our activities”. He says that the idea is to try and infuse values into these young people although they are living amidst chaos, uncertainty and in some cases, hopelessness. The Leaders of Bicentennial Scout Group also want other Scouts to be able to come into the Shelters without fear, to learn about the difficulties of living in such a place.