Blog | Leap of faith: Scouting and Hinduism
A pilot project forged links between Scouting and the Hindu community. Lessons were learned for the future of faith-based Scouting.
Scouting has a proud history of including people of all faiths. This has paved the way for a truly multi-faith movement, with numerous versions of the Promise, allowing members to acknowledge their God, or none at all.
Other faiths are active members of Scouting, but the Hindu community has not yet picked it up so widely. This is despite the enormous popularity of Scouting in India, where membership runs into millions.
Within Hinduism sits Manavata. This faith-based charitable movement began with a single man - Srinivasa Alluri, who lived in a remote South Indian village in the 1990s. In a story emulating Baden-Powell, Alluri was alarmed by the lack of opportunity for local young people and felt compelled to act.
Manavata has grown globally into a network of thousands of followers around the world, involved in all sorts of volunteering - from fundraising bike rides, to encouraging blood donation. The Manavata community believe strongly in a spirit of love and kindness, which compliments the five core values of Scouting: Integrity, Respect, Care, Belief and Cooperation.
Photography: Gareth Iwan Jones
Working in partnership
A partnership between Manavata and Scouting formed through a professional relationship between Srinivasa Alluri and Amir Cheema, MBE – former District Commissioner in Brunel, Avon, and founder of the Muslim Scout Fellowship (MSF).
‘We were interested in whether we could set up a National Scout Active Support Unit [for Manavata], like the MSF,’ says Amir. There are around 30 National Scout Active Support Units, both faith-based and secular, which support UK members.
‘We knew that Manavata had a network of active volunteers,’ Amir explains. “If we could tap into that resource, we’d have a really strong national network to support Scouting sections and groups all around the UK.’
Pilot project phase
The Pears Project took up the challenge of running a pilot, linking with an active Manavata Chapter in North Bristol. In the summer of 2014, the Manavata Scout Group was created.
This pilot began with taster sessions, run by Scout Association staff with support from the Manavata community. The young people enjoyed the games and activities – but it was clear that the Scouting method would need adaptation. According to Ben Powlesland, Pears Project Manager, and Georgie Hudd, Pears Project Intern, activities were modified to make sure no waste was generated. This was an important learning curve, and set the tone for an integrated model.
Despite positive feedback from the young people who attended sessions for over eight months, the Group struggled. Amir admits that the District was slow to back the Group at first: training sessions were scheduled at times leaders could not make, and this held back development. Brunel District has now improved the tools, training and infrastructure provided to new Groups.
Learning from the experience
18-months after the first sessions, the project folded. ‘As an experiment, this pilot is still absolutely valid,’ Amir says with conviction. ‘It was clear that the demand was there from the young people who attended the sessions. We now need to take the learning from this experience and see what else we could do.’
One option might be to rethink the model. ‘We may have been over-ambitious,’ Amir admits. ‘Trying to set up something from scratch was never going to be easy. Next time it might be better to try and work in partnership and open a new Section within an existing Group.’
Ultimately, the experience has not diminished the potential of a National Scout Active Support Unit for the Hindu community. Jamie MacDonald, Regional Services Team, believes it is worth pursuing. ‘We are really flexible and open to exploring the options that would work best for this community.’
‘Worldwide, the community Scouting model works,’ Amir points out. ‘The method we mainly use in the UK [integration or faith-based satellite groups] is not the only way Scouting can work.’ Calling ourselves a global movement, but failing to look towards global Scouting for lessons and ideas, is at best narrow-minded, and, at worst, bigoted.
‘One of [Scouting’s] strengths is that there are very few barriers to being inclusive and open to all sorts of communities. It may be that we just need to see what works for a particular community, to be innovative and try something new,’ says Jamie.
Amir echoes this. ‘New provision involving diverse communities challenges the status quo. It makes the programme richer, and brings in a vibrant and rich new perspective,’ he says. ‘And, it challenges existing groups to be better.’
We have online resources about faith and spiritual development in Scouting, and a specialist team of Diversity and Inclusion advisors on hand to answer your questions. This article originally appeared, unabridged, in the March 2016 issue of Scouting Magazine.