Interamerican Leadership Training
On the 26th of December 2015, I embarked on a journey with a fellow Scout leader, Patrick Welch to Inter-American Leadership Training held in Muxbal, Guatemala to represent our country of Trinidad and Tobago. Little did we know that this journey would change our lives forever. This report can only attempt to scratch the surface of the incredible experience we had.
Inter-American Leadership Training is a training programme designed to train Scout leaders of all the countries in the Inter-American Scout Region. Its objective simply revolves around making the world a better place by creating leaders who could take up leadership roles in their national Scout organisations and have them equipped to carry out a Messengers of Peace project. We had the chance to work together with over 60 scouts of different countries of our region: Chile, Mexico, Guyana, Brazil, Suriname, Colombia, Ecuador, Grenada, Belize, Jamaica, Curacao, Aruba, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Honduras, Bahamas, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, USA, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Costa Rica and Paraguay. This was the third time the training was being conducted and it would be at Campo de Escuela San Jorge in Muxbal. It was a week full of workshops, conferences, forums and the development of the global programme of Messengers of Peace.
World Scouting’s Messengers of Peace Initiative, launched by the World Scout Committee in 2011, aims to inspire the millions of Scouts who are doing amazing things in their local communities to tell the world about it, and thus inspire other Scouts to do even more. Any Scout project that brings a positive change in a community - its health, environment, social circumstances, safety or addresses conflict – is a Messengers of Peace project.
We arrived at the campsite 2 days before the training would officially begin. On arrival we were greeted with warmth and smiles as the staff members introduced us to those present and took us on a tour around the campsite which included a long obstacle course in the forest. The campsite comprised of 4 main areas: the male dorms, the female dorms, the dining hall and the lecture hall. Meals would always be on time and we were fed buffet style at the dining hall. Both Patrick and myself received national scarves before we left Trinidad which we would always wear throughout the camp. I felt proud to have the colours of my national flag on at all times. The next day, we welcomed participants as they arrived, chatted with them and then we officially checked into the camp at 5pm that evening. It would quickly become evident that during the course there would be language barriers that would make communication more difficult but we would later learn that Scouting would be the universal language that would unite us all. In all the Spanish, English and French, we all communicated together like magic. That night the first forum was held where we would discuss why we joined Scouting.
The 28th, which was the 1st official camp day was spent hanging out and getting to know each other and who the people in your team was. Being on the media team at 1st Naparima College Sea Scouts, I wanted to share my ILT experience while it was going on so people back home could benefit from my trip as well, so I started to live tweet everything that I was doing for the entire camp. I used the group’s Twitter page (@1stNapsScouts) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/1stNapsScouts) to share a few sentences every few hours or so, whenever I could get internet at meals. I belonged to the Yellow Team which included 8 leaders like myself and one Team Advisor who would oversee us. Our team advisor was from Peru and the members of the team would include participants from Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We would then participate in most activities as a team, similar to the patrol system. Each day we would have a different team leader from amongst us and each day two teams would be the selected to be either the service team or the programme team. The opening ceremony was held at 6:30 pm and it included each participant lighting a candle when their country’s name was called until everyone had a lighting candle. The candles would then be extinguished together. The lecture hall also had flags of each country hung all around the room. The staff then put on a grand, hilarious campfire with songs, skits and introductions.
The staff was made up of mainly past ILT participants and youth leaders who dressed as superheroes or star wars characters for the ceremony. There were only six older adults on staff who advised or guided the youth staff but took no active role. The course director, Marcelo Hahn was referred to as ‘El Supremo’ and he would give out chocolate coins with his face printed on the wrappers and make witty jokes throughout the camp. The theme of the layout of the camp would be based on ‘Star Wars’ movies as they named the buildings ‘Star Killer Base’ and ‘Death Star’ after spaceships in the movies. After the opening ceremony there was a course overview and then the first session which was on the World Organisation of the Scout Movement and the Inter-American Region. There would then be some social time and a snack break and then lights out at 10pm. The rules of the camp, in order of importance, were: don’t die, be safe, be on time and make friends. An unofficial rule was also that the course director was always right.
Participants would have to be ready for breakfast at 7:30am every morning and then we would gather to raise the flags, listen to the daily announcements and assignments of service and programme teams. The programme team would receive a chest that they could customize and decorate for that day and the service team would receive a bamboo stick that they could do the same. They would have to undergo wacky, embarrassing, made-up rituals that the staff would decide every morning before they got the items. For example, we had to hop backwards in a circle on one leg holding on to each other’s shoulders while repeating a made up oath before we could become the programme team. These rituals were so fun that I immediately vowed to implement them back in Trinidad with my Scouts at any camp I can. The team leaders of each team would then be sworn in while holding the team leaders stick and reciting a made up team leader’s pledge.
After this ceremony we would then head to the lecture hall to do sessions until lunch then more sessions, then dinner, then more sessions then lights out. The sessions, however, would sometimes be in the form of fun activities or games. The sessions of that day included Building Bridges to Understanding, Values of Scouting, Messengers of Peace Overview, Fleur de Lis Knot, Effective Team Leadership, Zulu Toss, Communication, Inter-American Region Resources and Project Planning. Apart from main sessions at times we would have conference sessions where a participant could choose which 1 or 2 of the 3 sessions available to attend. Patrick and I decided we would always choose different sessions so we could maximize the information we bring back to our country. There would also be forums where all participants would be given strategies of WOSM to discuss in smaller groups and then present to each other. That day our topic was Communication. The night of the 29th, was movie night and we all gathered to watch the movie ‘Galaxy Quest’ before bed. This is where the camp motto was derived from, a quote in the movie – ‘Never give up, never surrender.’ These words would be said almost every time all of us assembled and whenever the course director speaks. It resonated throughout our minds for the entire camp and it was even printed on t-shirts that we received.
The next day we would journey to Antigua, Guatemala on a field trip. I was selected to be team leader on this day and before we left, I had to co-ordinate an interfaith service. This included in prayers in different languages, a message, a reflection and a song. After a 2 hour bus ride to Antigua, we finally got off on top of a hill and had various tasks to complete throughout the day as well as reach to the central park at the base of the hill. Some of the tasks were to take ‘selfies’ or videos with native Guatemalans, tourists, different historical landmarks and get specific items from vendors. After all teams gathered, we left Antigua and came back to Muxbal where we would have dinner and participant campfire.
The sessions for the next day included Understanding the Group, Puzzle Hunt, Lessons from Geese, Team Development, Front End Alignment, Marshmallow/Spaghetti Challenge and WOSM Dialogue. The conferences for the next day included Feedback, Setting the Example and Team vs Individual Decisions. The forum for the next day was on Governance and Leadership. That night, was one of the most awaited nights of all the participants – International Night and New Year’s Eve Celebration. Each country was given a booth where they could display things from their country, and some countries could do a dance or song from their county for 2 minutes. Participants wore clothing representing their country and foods from each country were constantly being shared all over the room. I wore a red kurta and a turban to symbolize my East Indian culture and heritage in Trinidad and Tobago and gave out Kurma and Channa to everyone. I also displayed 1st Naparima College Sea Scout merchandise and our 60th anniversary magazine. The magazine was a big hit and all the Scouts who viewed it enjoyed the glimpse into what Scouting is like at 1st Naps. The Trinidad and Tobago booth was amongst the best as we had a great variety of items to give away. Maps of Trinidad and Tobago, pens, bookmarks, bags, fliers and pamphlets among many others were distributed quickly. The New Year’s Eve celebrations would then take place as we counted down the new year together. There were a lot of food and drinks and music and the party kept going until 1am where we were reluctantly forced to go to our cabins.
The next morning breakfast was at 9am and the sessions that day included Euroasian Region Overview, Inter-American Region Line Up, Problem Solving/ Decision Making, “Ain’t No Flies on Me”, and Conflict Management/ Resolution. The forum for that day was on Education Methods and the conferences were on Digital Communication and Ethical Decisions.
The last day was finally here – January 2nd. We finished with sessions on Diversity/ Inclusion, Airplane Mileage, Team Messengers of Peace Presentations, Course Summary, Complete Course Evaluation and a forum on Youth Engagement.
My team, Team Yellow, revealed our Messenger of Peace project on this day. Our project, ‘Food for Tomorrow’ addressed the world problem of hunger. We decided that in each of our countries we would collect food or money via donations and events we would host and distribute them to the hungry and those in need of food. We worked together as a team to develop the project and presented it. Even to this day, we stay connected and continue to work together to see the project develop in our countries. I intend to start this project in Trinidad and Tobago shortly so that I could better the local communities better and make Trinidad and Tobago a better country hoping that together we could make the world a better place. Despite being in different groups, Patrick and I decided to always stay connected with each other’s projects and keep working together.
The closing ceremony was similar to the opening ceremony as we each had to light a candle and say something about the course and the journey forward before lighting the candle of the person beside us until all candles were lit and then we had to blow out all the candles together. It was nostalgic and heart breaking that the course was finally over. I packed my bags and hung out with all the other participants until we were ready to take the bus at 3am the next day to start travelling back to Trinidad. As we were about to leave, tears could be seen streaming down the faces of many of the participants as the thought of being away from the people that we spent this week bonding with filled their head. Emotions were intense and hugs were exchanged in large numbers.
All the topics I’ve been trained in at ILT are Building Bridges to Understanding, Values of Scouting, Fleur De Lis Knot, Effective Team Leadership, Communication, Visioning, Servant Leadership, Values/Leader Connection, Project Planning, , Boundary Breaking, Understanding the Group, Team Development, EDGE (Educate.Demonstrate.Guide.Enable.), Feedback, Team vs Individual Decisions, Setting the Example, Diversity/Inclusion and Messengers of Peace Project Planning. I intend to use the knowledge and experience that I gained from ILT to develop Scouting in my country, the Caribbean and hopefully in the Inter-American Region. As a trained leader I now stand prepared and excited to use my training to the best of my ability.
Throughout the entire course, the Stages of Team Development always applied to everything we did. The stages – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing were extremely useful everyday as we worked with people in our teams and we learnt how to effectively develop a team. The EDGE leadership theory also was one of the most valuable lessons ILT taught us. Educate, Demonstrate, Guide and Enable really is the way we as leaders in Scouting are supposed to lead. I intend to focus a lot more on these two truly important lessons and implement these theories as best as I can in my future Scouting and leadership endeavours.
We started the course as strangers and we ended it as family – a true representation of what the family of Scouting is like. I hugged all my new brothers and sisters one last time before heading to the airport. It was by far the best experience of my life. Despite all the knowledge we gained, one truly important aspect of ILT is the formation of lasting friendships and bonds that was developed with people from different countries that could be used to link different national Scouting organisations and help unite the region on a whole. ILT has trained me in leadership and being a Messenger of Peace to make the world a better place but it also gave me the best week of my life. Now I am here in Trinidad, prepared to share my experience and knowledge to better the community, the country and to make the world a better place.