“Our Beaver Scouts usually join around age 4 or 6. These are the youngest Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts.” I listened as the group’s interpreter translated for the Educational Supervisor, Abdullah Alghamdi.
“Are there beavers in Saudi Arabia?” I asked incredulously.
“No, no.” They laughed. “The word is براعم (baraa’em) … it means little buds, from a small tree.”
The twelve Saudi Boy Scouts will be travelling across the United States as part of an International Visitor Leadership Program entitled Youth Empowerment through Scouting, Service, and Spouts. It will be the first time in the United States for all group members.
I asked them what inspired them to become scouts. For most, the unanimous answer was “the goodness and love of adventure, of camping at night, and providing community service.” Their itinerary in the United States will provide them with plenty of opportunities for adventure, campfires, and community service as they travel from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX and Santa Fe, NM with a final stop in Detroit, MI for the Fourth of July. Meridian Program Associate, Faisal Hassan had this to say about coordinating the group’s travel “This is a group of Saudis that break stereotypes. The Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Association shows just how much commonality there is between both countries in terms of youth service, self-reliance, and community building.”
When asked about the Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, they said “We have a memorandum of mutual understanding, with visitor exchanges between scouts.” The Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts have a similar merit badge system to the United States with a few noted additions including falconry and a Hajj pilgrimage badge. Mulfi Alghamdi proudly displayed the badge he received for participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program.
When I inquired further about the Hajj pilgrimage badge, the scouts explained that it is their duty to assist pilgrims during the Hajj season. With Ramadan approaching I asked if the scouts had any special duties during that month of fasting. “Yes, we work in the cities of Medina and Mecca helping with Holy services and organizing feasts for the worshippers to break their fasts.” In this aspect they work alongside government agencies across the Kingdom. Other activities that they coordinate with the government include picking up trash, repairing broken air conditioning units and plumbing. They also plant trees and aquatic vegetation around the Kingdom.
I came to understand that the Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts’ faith is intrinsically woven into their volunteer work. They stated “that in Islam, you have to offer help to those who need help without anything in exchange. We have an obligation to do good deeds. We put everything we do in the frame of scouts; through that frame we offer our services.”