Blog | Cambodia calling
SMESU Explorer Scout Unit are no strangers to adventure. Last summer, they flew half-way around the world to spend a month in Cambodia.
It seems like an almost impossible task. How do you even begin to organise taking Scouts halfway across the world? ‘We basically sit down and look at a map of the world,’ Explorer Scout Leader Barry Donald-Hewitt says. ‘It’s at least a two-year process. We actually started planning this trip in August 2013, straight after coming back from [the Unit’s last international expedition to] Nepal.’
The Unit first undertook a major international development trip in 2006. Since then they’ve refined the process, and now run a trip every 2-4 years. 11 leaders and 44 Explorers went on the trip this time – spending 28 days in Cambodia, immersing themselves in the culture and working with local tradespeople to build new classrooms for a primary school with 300 pupils.
Before leaving for Cambodia, the Explorers undertook training in bricklaying and other building techniques, so that they would be ready to chip in and get their hands dirty onsite.
The Unit deliberately runs ‘development-style’ international trips. ‘We’re not interested in “voluntourism”,’ Barry says – ‘we’re conscious that the Explorers need to do a real quality project while they’re out in another country.’ They linked up with Cambodian Scouts to work together on the building project, and to share different parts of their culture.
‘We’re doing this in the spirit of Scouting. We want to go out there and make a positive change,’ another leader, Murray, chips in. He is one of the regular SMESU leaders who volunteered for this trip, and is one of the seven leaders under 25 in the team.
‘We had a really young leadership team for this expedition,’ Murray explains. Almost all the leaders were former SMESU Explorers, and took part in previous international expeditions – including Murray himself. ‘It’s nice to see it from both sides – as a wide-eyed 15-year-old and now as a leader,’ he says. ‘Personally, it’s helped me to develop as an effective leader. I can honestly say that I wouldn't have the confidence I do today if it wasn’t for my role in Scouting.’
Almost two years of planning came together to give the young people the trip of a lifetime, as they swapped a month of soggy Scottish summer for sub-tropical Cambodia. ‘What we’re doing taking these young people to developing countries is opening their eyes, and challenging some of their perceptions,’ Barry says.
Murray agrees: ‘For some Explorers, you see them coming on leaps and bounds. Lots of them came back with a different sense of the world. They realise how privileged they are and want to continue to make a difference.’ It is these kind of experiences that can really shape a young life – and it is Scouting that is providing these amazing opportunities.
Read the full version of this article, including more detail about how the leadership team planned their trip abroad, in the September 2016 issue of Scouting Magazine.