Roma children from Parisian shanty towns join Scouts camping at Jambville

Every year thousands of children around the world spend their summers at Scout camp enjoying the great outdoors, and this week a group of seven Roma children from Paris are joining the fun.

The children are camping alongside Scout groups at Jambville, the national campsite for the Scouts and Guides of France, about an hour’s drive northeast of the capital from Thursday.

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The project is the idea of a group of Rover Scouts who volunteer in the shanty settlements on the edge of Paris where many Roma live, taking the children to the park and getting to know them through daily visits. The first Scout camp was held last year with the support of Scoutisme en Quartiers, which works to improve diversity and foster inclusion in French Scouting.

Benjamin Joubert, 22, one of the Rovers, says the small number of participants and the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with the children helped them establish a deeper rapport with the group, one of whom had been forced to move three times, and never had the chance to go to school. “They all felt part of the group,” he recalled. “And we paid attention to each of them.”

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Built in the grounds of a 17th century castle, Jambville covers 30 hectares of forest and open fields, and provides numerous sites for campers. For the Roma children, who live in flimsily-built wooden shacks without any toilets or power, it was the first time they’d experienced running water and electricity.

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“They were happy to run, play football, play games in the forest, make fires and cook by themselves,” Joubert said.

The children also visited the beehive, taking away their own pot of honey, and explored the vegetable garden, tasting zucchini flowers and other produce. They also got to live side-by-side with other Scouts, joining in with the games organised by a group of Cubs on a neighbouring site, and making new friends.

“My favourite thing was the flag game with the other kids,” said Armando, one of the boys who took part in the camp in 2017. “We had to catch the scarves and if someone caught yours, you went to jail!”

Every day, the group visited the “Scout Market” to get the ingredients for their meals - one of the children reading from the list, others collecting the products from the shelves, and all of them working together as a team to put dinner on the table at camp.

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Andreaa, 9, one of the Roma girls who went to Jambville, enjoyed the treasure hunt.

“We managed to find our scarves so now we are real Scouts,” she said.

Roma people first came to Europe 1,000 years ago, but are among the continent’s most marginalised communities, and often living in makeshift shelters on the edge of big cities. Across the continent, a third of Roma are unemployed and some 90 percent live below the poverty line.

In Paris, the Roma children taking part in the camp live around the Ile de France where the Rovers volunteer with the Roma support programme of the non-profit group Les Enfants du Canal (Children of the Canal).

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Following the success of the 2017 camp, this year’s event has been expanded to include volunteers from the shanties themselves, working alongside the Rovers. By taking part in the programme, the young adults will learn more about Scouting, and develop their understanding of how the Movement can benefit not only Roma but also other marginalised communities.

The Rovers also plan to introduce Scouting into the community itself, another step towards breaking down the barriers of prejudice and discrimination.

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