From egg drops to Harry Potter: how Scouting won over young Czechs
Scouting in the Czech Republic was banned three times under the country’s authoritarian regimes, and many of its leaders sacked from their jobs or even thrown in jail, but 30 years after the collapse of Communism, young Czechs are queuing up to become Scouts, and the Czech Republic is one of Scouting’s fastest-growing national organisations.
Membership has risen by 50% since 2006, after Junák – Czech Scouting renewed its youth programme, improved training for adult volunteers, and stepped up publicity efforts.
Membership reached 60,522 at the end of January this year, compared with 40,000 in 2006. Year-on-year growth was the highest in 12 years. The country has a population of about 10.5 million.
“We have completely renewed our youth programme,” said Josef Vyprachticky – Jose, President of Junák – Czech Scouting. “We stick to our well-proven methods, but we also offer new activities and topics that are of interest and importance to girls and boys, and young men and women, nowadays.”
That means that where once Czech Scouts found inspiration in the work of Jules Verne, now it’s the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Today’s young Scouts may also learn about financial literacy or Internet security, and get the chance to earn badges in skills like geocaching, while expert partnerships ensure members can find out about professions such as broadcasting.
The outdoors, of course, continues to provide the foundation for the Czech Scouting experience, but whatever inspires the programme, it is designed to ensure that young people learn the kind of skills that will help them excel in life - whether that’s teamwork, the ability to communicate across cultures and differences or self-discipline.
The Scout Group in Prelouc, a town about 100 kilometres east of the capital Prague, has more than doubled its membership since 2010 and meets every week in an old school building that it leases from the authorities. The group has 162 members, including 109 children under the age of 18.
Mysak and Alchy are 12 years old and have been going to Scout meetings in Prelouc since they were six, along with their friend, Pajas, who’s now 13. The boys say they enjoy the variety of activities on offer.
This winter they got the chance to try cross-country skiing. “It was the first time for me,” recalled Mysak. “It was great to learn with friends and people I know well.” But as Scouts they also learn to work together in more unusual ways. Pajas remembers the time they had to drop an egg from a window without breaking it. “It was truly an interesting game,” he laughed.
The Scout leaders in Prelouc have worked hard to boost membership, holding regular ‘Scouting Days’ where they invite local families to join them and enjoy a slice of Scouting life, whether trying out climbing, building a podsada tent – a type of tent that’s unique to Czech (and Slovak) scouting - or learning more about the activities on offer. Sometimes, they give talks in schools.
“People know about us well and parents search for Scouting because they know that today's children sit mostly at their computer, on their smartphone and do nothing else,” said Clara, 23, who leads the 1st Anikrok Scout troop in the town. “Parents know that Scouting is really useful and universal when it comes to personal growth and really fun for their kids too.”
More than 80% of parents in the Czech Republic would be supportive of their children becoming Scouts, according to international research firm, IPSOS. Most Czechs (89%) also believe that children who join the Movement will experience a lot of adventure, and develop autonomy, creativity, teamwork and problem-solving skills.
But growing Scouting isn’t just about getting more children to join – expansion also requires more adult volunteers. Czech Scouts have begun a new initiative to woo adults from outside Scouting to become volunteers, but its Rover Scouts remain the backbone of unit leadership.
“What has been working very well for us for years is turning Rover Scouts into leaders,” Vyprachticky said. “A vast majority of our unit leaders have gone through the educational process that Scouting provides and decided to stay on as leaders. We are very lucky with this.”
Katka, 19, is one of them.
She helps Clara run the Scout troop for girls in Prelouc, and first joined the organisation when she was eight. She says it’s the activities that keep many of the young people in their troop coming back, and encourage their friends to join too.
The Prelouc group goes on regular camps, but it’s the summer camp that’s the highlight of the year when scores of Scouts build their podsada or tee-pee tents together and spend two weeks or more enjoying the outdoor life. For many, it’s an unforgettable experience.
“I think a lot of kids come thanks to the fact that they know some friend who already is a Scout and enjoys it,” Katka said. “It’s the strength of word-of-mouth, basically.”
Top Tips from Scouts in the Czech Republic
- Keep your youth programme relevant, innovative and updated
- Make sure your training system makes people skilled, informed and passionate
- Talk about Scouting to people outside of Scouting using words, pictures and action, including through mass media and social media
- Look around and get inspired by what is there – not only in the Scouting environment and not only in your country
- Don’t do things just because they have been done like that “forever”. Always ask “why” and stay relevant and up-to-date