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Khmer Scouts regroup for a comeback

Khmer Scouts regroup for a comeback

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

state-ruled organization.

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

the capital.

"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."

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