After all, the Boy Scouts have been part of the fabric of the United States for longer than almost all of us have been alive — a 106-year-old tradition of service, character and leadership.
But Scouting didn’t start here. The BSA boasts an impressive 3.5 million youth and adult members, but that’s just one-eighth of the 28 million registered Scouts and adults worldwide.
Many American Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers know little about Scouting in other countries. Pratik Vaidya, Western Region Venturing president, was counted among that group.
That is, until last month when he was invited to attend Interamerican Leadership Training, a weeklong course in Guatemala.
“It was an incredible Scouting experience and an opportunity that I know many Scouts in the BSA do not know about,” he told me.
Alongside fellow Scouts from three dozen countries in North, Central and South America, Pratik learned about leadership, team building and problem solving. But more than that he learned to appreciate the awesome global reach of Scouting. He learned how Scouting’s values transcend borders and how each country puts its unique fingerprints on the Scouting experience we all share.
But don’t let me do all the writing. Pratik wrote the following guest post he agreed to let me share. It’s definitely worth a read.
The Interamerican Leadership Training (ILT) is a weeklong program modeled after National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) and Wood Badge that aims to develop leadership, team building, conflict resolution, problem solving, project management and decision-making skills.
Only two youth participants are invited from each country in the Interamerican Region, encompassing North, Central and South America. Staff and participants gain experiences, tools and lasting friendships that help them reach their individual visions and create a better world.
When I was first invited to join the ILT team, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Little did I know that ILT would create lifelong memories and friendships — and would change my perspectives about the world around me. It was my first international Scouting experience.
It’s strange to imagine only a few months ago I hardly knew anything about Scouting outside the U.S. I think back to the first time Dami, a staffer with whom I worked throughout the week, called me from Argentina. I was amazed to be able to talk to someone I had never met before who had a completely different background, and within two minutes, be bonding as if we’d known each other for years.
It was the first moment I appreciated the power of the Scouting movement. I realized the bond that Scouting creates transcends geographical lines, language barriers and cultural differences — in fact, we all have something in common that unites us.
The opening ceremony began in a pitch black room. The Scouts from each of the 35 countries lit a candle one by one as their country’s name was called. Together, we all spoke so many different languages: Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Papiamento and more. The experience foreshadowed a realization I’d make by the end of the week.
Here I was with people from all over North, Central and South America and, similar to my first interaction with Dami, we immediately grew close, sharing stories, joking around and transforming into a great team. I found the leadership trainings and presentations were very similar to those I’d given at home — experiences that have shaped me from the shy introverted child I was, to the person I am today.
But I started seeing subtle differences in those made by people from different countries. Each person brought with them their own backpack full of traditions, stories and cultural experiences.
I was exposed to the different approaches Scouting takes in each of the various countries and what they tend to focus on: adventure, service, mentorship, bringing peace, etc. The simple things — from the way we eat, the clothes we wear and our interaction with one another — differed so much. I was able to be a little vulnerable and share a piece of myself with everyone else in an atmosphere where people were accepting and excited to learn about a different perspective.
The experience allowed me to challenge my beliefs and be willing to try something new; ILT became the ultimate epitome of diversity.
I’ve come home with a new set of perspectives and a new appreciation for the world we live in. I hope that other Scouts have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the amazing and powerful worldwide movement we have.
– Pratik Vaidya, Western Region Venturing President