There are than 240,000 of them in neighboring Thailand, nearly 90,000 in Malaysia,
another 2.2 million in the Philippines and a total of 16 million in 131 associations
around the globe. But if you asked young Cambodians on the street about the meaning
of the word "scout" only a few would have any notion.
This look's certain to change as more youngsters here learn that the scouts is the
world's biggest youth organization with much to offer. It was founded in 1913 by
the Englishman Lord Robert Baden-Powell as an educational organization based on simple
but attractive principles such as the outdoor life. Banned under communism, the movement
is now making a comeback in Cambodia.
Under the guidance of the new Ministry for Youth, Sports and Women's Affairs, the
first batch of about 50 boys and girls, smoothly dressed in their new uniforms with
red-blue scarves, gather every Sunday morning at the Olympic Stadium.
With keen interest they listen to the story of the founder "B.P." and learn
the rudiments of scouting-orientation, first aid and woodcraft. Each week, more youngsters
drop in and ask the two ancient scouts, Seng Heang and Bin Por Ang, who act as leaders
and instructors of the group, if they can join in.
The interest shown by children and parents has encouraged Seng Heang, who has been
asked by Youth Minister Keat Sukun to reawaken the Khmer Scouts.
"We would like to initiate more groups in other provinces," he says. "But
for this year we concentrate our efforts on Phnom Penh and the main provinces-Battambang,
Kandal, Siem Reap and Kompong Cham."
Seng Heang is occupied with basic problems like money but hopes that some day the
Khmer Scouts will be able to leave the delapidated stadium and build their own home.
A short term goal is the publication of handbooks and a first camping outing. But
the lack of tents and camping material, the rainy season and the prevailing security
problem, prevent the group from venturing further afield.
Leaders also need to be trained. Seng Heang can draw a lot of knowledge from his
experiences at the Site 2 camp. Together with Snguon Malayath, he was responsible
for its Scout group with more than 1,000 members.
The Khmer Scout Association (Angka Khemarak Kayrith, AKK) was created in 1934 under
the direction of Prince Monireth. Other leaders, like Tep Im, Long Touch or Pok Thien,
marked the first era of the AKK which spread over several provinces and counted far
more than 1,000 members when the movement was, in 1956, transformed into the "Scouts
of the Queen."
This step away from the fundamentals of scouting prepared the way for a total transformation
of the AKK into the "Royal Socialist Khmer Youth" (Jeunesse socialiste
royaliste Khmers, JSRK) in 1957 with Prince Norodom Sihanouk as president of this
It was only in 1972 when Scouting would be reestablished for a short period with
ten groups, each with more than 100 members. The war kept the Scouts confined to
"There were very few groups in the provinces," recalls Tep Nitha who was
a group leader at that time and now a member of the committee of the Khmer Youth
Association. "We did a lot of humanitarian work and could make only a few hikes
around the outskirts of the capital."
Links have now been formed with the World Organization in Geneva, and Seng Heang
is stressing the voluntary, independent and non-political character of the movement
which is open to members of every religion. "Our common motivation," says
Seng Heang, " is that we want to be Scouts."