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EU > Belgium > Antwerpen

Joining the Scouts

Antwerpen, BE (View on map)

Finland is one of the few European countries that stick to strict military conscription. Other countries struggle to find alternative constructions to force different layers of society to interact during at least one period in their lives. In Belgium, compulsory military service was abolished in 1994, but they have an interesting alternative to it. On a voluntary basis and without any aggressive undertone to it. Resembling Donald Ducks` cousins as `The Junior Woodchucks`, many Belgians spend at least one year of their life as members of the Scouting.

Kat (27):

..cannot elaborate on the admission procedure for becoming a scouts` leader
Scouting is an international movement, founded by Robert Baden Powell in the early 1900s. Baden Powell himself liked nature much more than school, and the only organisation that he found sufficiently interesting to work for was the army. After fighting a number of battles, he wrote `A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship through Woodcraft`. In this book, he promotes contact with nature, combines with virtues like patriotism, helpfulness, altruism, sense of responsibility, courage, creativity, discipline and sense of improvisation. It still today forms the basis of scouting: a mix between military discipline, play and survival skills.

Flanders has three organisations that engage in scouting-like activities: the Scouts, the KSA and Chiro. All are referred to as `Youth movements`, and they do not substantially differ from one another. Kids would typically prefer one over the other because they have a friend in one, because they live closer to a specific one or because they are free on the day and time of the week of the scheduled activities.

Among all Belgian scouting organisations, only the sea scouts are considered different. They are associated with the higher classes of society, and thought of as more conservative than the other organisations. Stijn (22) even calls the sea scouts typical Franskiljons, referring to the Flemish upper-class who prefer to speak French rather than Dutch.

Kat (27, photo) joined Chiro when she was 12 years old. `Chiro, like the others, organises activities during the weekends: camps, droppings, games and singing songs. For older people, there were also reflection sessions, during which people could think about themselves or think about their role in the group. Altogether, we undertook plenty of activities that served some useful purpose. I joined Chiro because a friend of mine told me to join. I spent one year as camp management. As all of the management goes through the Dukking procedure, which is similar to hazing among students. I can`t tell you what happens. It`s a secret, but it`s certainly not as embarrassing or as violent as what student organisations set up.`

Ruben (26) also spent one year with the scouts. He joined when he was 11 years old, because a representative of the scouts came to his place to ask whether he wanted to join. `They do that every now and then, I don`t know how they have access to that kind of information but they do`, he says. Ruben initially hesitated, because he used to spend a lot of time on his athletics trainings. `But during that one year, my training hours were scheduled on another day, so I could join.`

One of the activities Ruben remembers best is the Exchange Tour. Groups of scouts were sent out from the club house with an egg. The aim was to ring at people`s door and try to exchange the egg for something nicer, exchange that for something else and so on. Objective for the day: to come back with the biggest, most useful or most interesting article. `It was fun to do that. Everybody in Belgium is familiar with scouting, so you can certainly count on help when you go out with such a mission.

Bert (23) joined the Chiro when one of his friends told him he would get a class of Coke for that, which he calls a pretty random reason `but why not give it a try`. Bert tells me how the summer camps were great fun: `We put up big army tents, did all sorts of open-air games and learnt survival techniques. Older people cycled from home to the camp location in two days time, the younger kids went their by bus. At the location, we enjoyed nature. We walked through the forest and simply spent lots of time out in nature.

Camp management
Max (19) has been with the youth movement for a while is, and still is at present. He was allowed into the club management layers at the age of 14. `At that occasion, but only with the scouts, not with KSA or Chiro, you will be given a Totem name. The Totem name is the name of an animal that matches your personality. It is selected by seniors within the organisation. Mine is Jay, which is linked to intelligence, vividness and sociability. It determines my role in the group. When tasks are allocated to members of the camp management, these character traits will be taken into consideration.

Although scouting is traditionally linked with the Catholic Church, there is not much of that relation left. Max remembers the local priest sometimes coming by to have a look around, and that the evening song implicitly referred to religion. The separation between boys and girls, which has remained in place in many local organisations, could also be explained by the catholic background. Mixed scouting groups are slowly becoming more numerous, but the standard is still to have a good share of the activities separately.

Importance in future life
All youth organisations have their own uniform, which can be tuned with all sorts of badges. Like in the army, carrying many badges often means that the person in question has completed many assignments, or run through many stages of the organisation. People who bid their youth organisation farewell usually keep their costume. If they still fit their costume, they will wear it with pride on Scout Celebration days. Scouts who have served for a long time are even likely to mention their Scout past on their CV. Having been a scout is often associated with having social skills and good ethics. People who made it to the camp management level may even refer to it as organisation or management experience.

It`s also worth mentioning that there is very little difference in youth movement popularity between Wallony and Flanders. Although the scouting federations are split from a high level downwards the scouting still assures interaction between both parts of the country: for Flemish scouts, the most popular destination for summer camps is the French-speaking Ardennes-region. It may not be much, but it is at least an excuse for getting people across the language border to see what`s happening on the other side. Cross-border observations usually become less frequent at a later age.

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