Young women participate in Arab Scout Jamboree for first time

Maryem Salama, 17, grew up in what she describes as a conservative Tunisian family. She wasn’t allowed to go out by herself or get involved in sports.

But a year ago, she joined the Scouts and now she’s camping with friends and enjoying the outdoors at the Arab Scout Jamboree.

“I’ve always been kind of socially awkward, so I was kind of afraid at first to be part of a big group going to the camp because this is my first Scout camp,” she said during a day of horse riding, sack races and tug of war. “Through hiking and camping together, I’ve got used to being part of the group though.”

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Salama is one of some 78 pioneering young women taking part in this year’s Arab Scout Jamboree, the first time that girls have been invited to join the celebration. There are also more than 40 female volunteers and contingent leaders on site.

Scouting started in the Middle East as early as 1912, and the Arab Scout Region was established in 1954, when the countries of the region also held their first Jamboree – in Syria.

This year’s event with the slogan, Arab Dream, is taking place at the national campsite of Algeria’s Muslim Scouts at Sidi Fredj on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea; a popular beach getaway for Algerians. Young women have their own camp, which is separate to the boys’ four camps, but they get to enjoy the same activities, as well as campfires and other Scouting traditions. The whole camp – 1,600 strong - comes together in the cool of the evening to eat, relax and play games like table tennis and chess.

At the opening ceremony, World Scouting Secretary-General Ahmad Alhendawi and senior Scout leaders welcomed the Arab Region’s decision to allow girls to take part in the event.

Dina Assouma, who was leading the Safe from Harm training at the Jamboree (also a first), was thrilled.

"Scouting is a right for all and major gatherings do not limit the participation of boys and the exclusion of girls, depriving them of these rights," she wrote in an email following the opening ceremony. "We are witnessing all the jamborees in the world with the participation of boys and girls together. The Arab Scout Camp, in its 32nd edition, achieved the Arab dream of achieving equality, which is the strength of the Scouting movement."

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Ranim Weslety, 17, has been a Scout since she was ten, and welcomes the “free space” Scouting gives her, away from her siblings. The Jamboree is the Tunisian’s first international experience as a Scout.

“I was really, really excited to come to the Jamboree,” she said, during a day spent climbing, horse-riding and hiking. “This is my first Scout camp outside of Tunisia and I really wanted to meet new people. I’m excited about the diving activity and the cultural day because we’ll get to see traditional dresses from other countries and learn about how they live in other countries.”

After two weeks of outdoor fun, the camp ends this week, when all the Scouts – male and female - will come together to mark the closing of the event.

After camping for the night at the Chrea National Park, and trying her hand at rock climbing, Salama had rather more immediate goals.

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“I’m excited about the water sports day because I really love sports,” she said.

**This story was edited on 11 September to add a comment from Dina Assouma.

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