Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Receive Praise for their Service to Umrah Pilgrims during Ramadan; Saudi Arabian Girl Scouts to Begin in Jeddah

Education Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdullah meets with Boy Scouts commanders in Makkah on Wednesday. (AN photo by Ahmed Hashad)

The article featured below celebrates the role of Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts in aiding pilgrims who arrive in Makkah during Ramadan to perform umrah (the little pilgrimage) as part of their spiritual focus during this holy month.

Boy Scouts' role in serving pilgrims commended
Published: Aug 25, 2011 00:25 Updated: Aug 25, 2011 00:25

MAKKAH: Education Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdullah commended the services of scouts for pilgrims and visitors at the Grand Mosque during Ramadan.

He said the concept of scouts was inspired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s endeavors in the services of humanity.

Speaking to scouts and officials in Makkah, the minister said King Abdullah linked humanitarian and voluntary work with dialogue. He said people all over the world have welcomed the king’s initiative despite cultural and religious differences.

He said the ministry would introduce a number of programs to strengthen the role of scouts and enable them to make greater contributions toward cultural and social development. “A special body will be formed to set out the new programs,” he added.

Hundreds of scouts have been involved in extending various services to the guests of God in Makkah. Authorities introduced the program in order to inject in the youth a spirit of service to the nation and providing humanitarian services.

A senior official described the services being rendered by scouts in Makkah and Madinah as the scouts organization’s best contribution, adding that it would enhance its credibility and reputation.

Prince Faisal also met with Bakr Basfar, director general of education in the Makkah province, Col. Yahya Al-Zahrani, commander of the Haram security forces, and Faiz Al-Shahri, supervisor of the scouts center in Makkah as well as a number of scouts commanders.


The Scouting movement (Cubs- ages 7 to 12; Scouts- ages 12 to 16; Senior Scouts- ages 16 to 19; Rovers- ages 19 to 21) began informally with the arrival of American families in the 1940's to live and work in the Eastern Province. American Scouts developed direct international chapters, and then Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts was created in the early 60's.

From Wikipedia:

The Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Association (SABSA, Arabic:  جمعية الكشافة العربية السعودية) is the national Scouting organization of Saudi Arabia. Scouting was officially founded in Saudi Arabia in 1961, though Scouting was active many years prior to the founding date, and became a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1963. It has 19,269 members (as of 2010).

In addition, there are American Boy Scouts in Dhahran, Riyadh, Jeddah, Ras Tanura, Udhailiyah, and Khamis, linked to the Direct Service branch of the Boy Scouts of America, which supports units around the world; as well as Boy Scouts of Scouts Canada in Riyadh.

The following article from 2010 gives some idea of the place of Scouting within contemporary Saudi society.

Scouts celebrate the National Day in Saudi Arabia
World Scout Information

Scouting was at the centre of the National Day celebrations recently in Saudi Arabia when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia celebrated its 80th anniversary. The key celebration took place in Nejran Region and the Scouts were honoured by the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Nejran Region and by the presence of His Highness Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, Minister of Education and Chief Scout of Saudi Arabia.

Four thousand Scouts celebrated the National day with a camp and Scouts of all ages from all over the country participated in a wide range of activities, e.g. community development, cultural, artistic, in the lead up to the event. The evening celebration in Nejran was a fantastic performance in the local stadium and was broadcast live on national television.

Scouting in Saudi Arabia receives strong support from the Government as it is seen as a key method of promoting citizenship and patriotism and helping to instill positive values and create a culture of tolerance and peace in young people. Scouting is also a way of helping young people in Saudi Arabia to experience other cultures in the world, through exchange visits and to welcome Scouts to experience life in Saudi Arabia. Recently a delegation of around 70 Scouts from Saudi Arabia participated in the World Scout Moot in Kenya.

King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud in 2001, challenged Scouting to focus on peace which resulted in the Gifts for Peace programme for the Centenary of Scouting. The King continues to believe that Scouting can play a positive role in bringing peace to the world and a programme to build on the results, ‘Messengers of Peace’ is currently being discussed. A group of international leaders from NSOs that developed Gifts for Peace programmes were also invited to contribute to discussions on Messengers for Peace and share in the national celebrations.


Though Girl Scouts began informally among American expats at the same time as Boy Scouts did, Saudia Arabian Girl Scouts are about to form an official National Society, base in Jeddah.

1st Girl Scouts society coming up in Jeddah

JEDDAH – The city will have the distinction of becoming the first in the Kingdom to have a National Society for Girl Scouts.

The society, to come up next year, will be under the Saudi Women Scouts team, reported Al-Watan Arabic newspaper Sunday.

The newspaper quoted Al-Anoud Al-Houti, head of the Saudi Women Scouts Team, as saying that a new building will be designated for the society. The future plans for her organization, she said, include setting up of a new scout team in the Eastern Province by the beginning of the next academic year and to prepare scout leaders and guides for participating in the National Day celebrations at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology after Ramadan.

She said the Women Scouts team is seeking to hold its second training course for schools. “The team seeks to hold training courses for 17 government schools and 13 private ones, with emphasis currently being on primary school girls,” she said. “The leaders at these schools have been chosen. They are teachers who are capable of carrying out the tasks of a scout leadership,” she added.

The Women Scouts team is also preparing to form a team of volunteers to offer all help to the citizens and the authorities in case of a disaster.

During the recent floods in Jeddah, the scouts could not offer any worthwhile work as “we were still in the planning stages,” Al-Houti said. However, all leader scouts offered necessary assistance to the flood victims in their individual capacities and as members of other societies. – SG


The Saudi Arabian Girl Scouts were preceded by American Girl Scouts in Saudi Arabia, in the Eastern Province, organized by agreement of the Saudi government and Aramco in the 1940s. The following article gives an idea of the activities of these Girl Scouts in 1961, and of expat life in Aramco. While some expat compaints never change no matter the place, the country, or the era, the description gives a vivid image of some of the challenges and benefits of expat life in that time and place.

Scouting with a difference
Aramco World, April 1961

There's a unique challenge to Girl Scouting in the desert areas of eastern Saudi Arabia.

"Rise up old flame,

By thy light glowing;

Show us thy beauty,

Vision and joy . . ."

The song rose in the night silence and trailed along the wind blowing through the camp from the Gulf of Bahrain. The girls were happy. Their voices rang and they gazed into the campfire. Some leaned toward the flickering light; some rested back in the cooling Saudi Arabian sands. The stars winked brilliantly in the clear air. The song ended.

"Now?" one of the girls called out.

"Yeah. Time for the marshmallows," another yelled.

One by one they jumped up—twenty-one Girl Scouts with a single (hungry) thought. They gathered in a cluster. Their long shadows stretched off into darkness toward the dunes. Most of the girls had roasting sticks ready.

A counselor, the mother of one of the girls, came toward them from the white wall-tents that stood in a ghostly, moonlight quadrangle opened at one end. She had a large round tin in her hand, and she tugged at the lid. It looked like an oversized cake tin.

She came forward to the light of the campfire and pulled the lid away from the tin. A strange, musty odor arose. She tipped the tin toward the fire so that she could get a good look at the precious marshmallows.

"Oh, they're awful!" one of the girls moaned.

The marshmallows were covered with mold, and were, of course, inedible.

"And let me tell you," the mother recalled recently in her home in Dhahran, "you have never seen such disappointed kids in your life. They were crushed. The marshmallow roast had been the big topic for weeks before our camp-out. And by sheer luck I had found the tin in al-Khobar. Incidentally, the merchant was just as disappointed as we were. You see, the marshmallows had to come by boat from England, and they had spoiled on the long trip out here."

Another mother, leader of a Girl Scout group in Dhahran, shook her head over the story and added, laughingly: "Well, at least we don't have to worry about poison ivy and snakes out here."

And those are the two sides of the story of the Girl Scouts—about three hundred of them—in Saudi Arabia where their fathers work for Aramco—the Arabian American Oil Company.

High hopes come a-cropper. Long-range planning teeters on the tight-rope of short-range frustrations. Disappointments are offset by exotic surprises.

It's scouting with a difference.

For instance, to a Girl Scout in Ohio an Amir exists only in the world of story books. But out at the edge of the camp where the marshmallows had gone bad, there stood a tent where a rather special soldier was headquartered. He was there on duty through the courtesy of the Amir Saud ibn Jiluwi, the Governor (Amir) of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The soldier was from the Amir's own khawiya (guard).

And during the afternoon the girls had had a first-hand glimpse into ancient history when they had gone for a sail in a Saudi Arabian coastal dhow. The handsome, slanted lanteen rig and the high rise of the stern and bow of this traditional vessel have been little modified in the past two thousand years. It was the sturdy dhow that once made Arab ports the crossroads of world trade. As the girls sailed across Half Moon Bay, they moved before the wind and above the fitted timbers of the past.

Of course, scouting with a difference can lead to some un-anticipated grey hairs—for the parents of the girls who participate.

"Look," one housewife-scout leader remarked, "I used to walk to the corner dime store at home and buy a hundred things that you can't even find out here. I mean the simple odds and ends that you take for granted in planning parties and scouting projects. Thumb tacks, Crepe paper. Construction paper. Leather. And just try to get water-color or poster paper. Or textile paints," she added.

But, times change, and the bustling city of al-Khobar which serves the three big oil communities in Saudi Arabia—Dhahran, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq—has become a relative shoppers' paradise.

"It's not nearly as bad as it was when we started fourteen years ago. But still, we have to do an awful lot of improvising on cook-outs. We have been pretty good scroungers. The heavy wire trays from a lot of refrigerators and stoves did double duty over our outdoor fires."

Several thousand girls have gone through scouting in Saudi Arabia despite the fact that . . .

"It's terribly difficult to try to carry out a nature study program in a country where you can go for hundreds of miles, I guess, and not even see any of the ordinary vegetation you stumble over in Illinois," another Girl Scout leader observed.

The Wild Life Badge?

"Well, now there's a problem. Many of the plants out here aren't even identified," she added. "The Gardening Badge is hard to get, but a lot of girls have done it."

The Foot Traveller Badge?

The leader laughed. "You have to walk a total of one hundred miles in cities, parks and forests. A lot of our girls have only seen forests in picture books."

But in a world where the "rock hound" (geologist) is an important man, and where a lot of the fathers are geologists, the girls manage to build up quite a few points for the Rock and Mineral Badge. And they have found many exotic shells in their Salt Water Badge programs which make impressive additions to their collections.

"If we could only identify all of them," another mother remarked. "I remember a few years ago one of the leaders took a peculiar shell with her on a trip to London in order to get it identified at the British Museum."

Again, the girls, by scouting in an exotic and fabled land, are at the threshold of the long, long story of man. For fresh-water shells have been found in the inner gravel and sand wastes of the magnificent Rub' al-Khali ("The Empty Quarter") that indicate the ancient flow of forgotten rivers in this now arid nation.

On short hikes, cook-outs and field trips the Girl Scouts have been tantalized by finding animal tracks in dunes and along sandy plateaus that they just can't quite figure out. But they have seen gazelle, oryx and foxes running like the wind.

And, how many Girl Scouts in West Virginia have ridden a camel?

The comments that the mothers make about the strange problems of scouting thousands of miles from the nearest dime store have a curious sound. One cocks an ear for the sound of complaint. But it isn't there. Instead there is a tone of pride—the day-by-day, long-haul triumph of the pragmatist. It has taken great ingenuity and persistence "to keep the show on the road," as one mother put it.

The pay-off?

That's something that can't quite be measured. "Maybe I'm prejudiced," one of the pioneer leaders said, "but I think our girls have an unusual sense of responsibility."

A young housewife not many years out of college let out a whoop.

"Listen, I'm not too much older than some of these kids myself, and let me tell you that I didn't have anything like what they've got at their age. They're terrific."

Maybe that's measure enough. But in addition, there are four or five Curved Bars (the equivalent of the Boy Scout's Eagle Scout award) given to girls in Saudi Arabia each year. Patience and enthusiasm do pay off.

The big moment, in scouting anywhere are the camp-outs. In California or Georgia, in Minnesota or South Carolina, they're equally exciting. In Saudi Arabia they're not only exciting—they're singular. For only one can be held each year in each of the three communities where the girls live. A camp-out in Saudi Arabia is an extremely complicated undertaking that involves many of the 150 fathers and mothers who are active in scouting.

The mothers start the concrete planning right after Christmas for the April vacation camp-out. The phrase "April vacation" would puzzle a scout from Texas. But the American schools in Saudi Arabia are on the trimester plan: three months of classes, one month's vacation (April, August and December are the vacation months).

The fathers help hoist the wall-tents at the camp-site and drive out the firewood and water. Incidentally, the girls practice very careful "water discipline." They know the perils of the desert sun, and they know how to save every drop of water. A mother who is a registered nurse with camp experience oversees their medical care.

The girls plan their own menus ahead of time and buy their own food. The mothers have been slightly startled by the good sense and balance of the menus.

A few years ago the girls were turned loose to buy whatever camp equipment they could find in al-Khobar, a city where the merchants are inured to the Middle East's love of bargaining.

"You never saw anything like it," a leader commented. "These kids went in with a smattering of Arabic plus their English, and they scoured the town for the best prices. They really had the merchants wondering what was going on as they trooped from store to store."

Their Arabic is a collection of useful words they pick up from Saudi schoolmates and friends. Some of it, of course, is slang.

When the Dhahran girls rendezvous the morning they leave for camp, they urge the bus drivers to hommy, hommy (hurry, hurry). They have a zain (good) time at the camp at Half Moon Bay because there is wajid (a lot of) swimming. After three days when it is time to break camp, they urge the counselors to shway, shway (take it easy, don't be in a rush). The older girls, with junior high nonchalance, aren't always impressed by the camping achievements of the younger scouts. Kulla wahid (all is one or, so what?) Hadn't they done as much when they were kids?

A familiar splotch of color at the camp-out is the Aramco green and white flight bag. Aramco families are great travelers. Some of the Girl Scouts tour Europe and the Far East as casually as their sister scouts in Pennsylvania go to New York or Washington. They have seen the "one world" of modern man; they don't have to learn from a book that it exists.

And their scouting gives them first-hand experience in world citizenship. Like Girl Scouts everywhere they obey ten laws, one of which says, "A Girl Scout is a friend to all and a Sister to every other Girl Scout." Their sisters in scouting include some of their Saudi Arab school chums. During community ceremonies the Girl Scout color guard bears aloft the Saudi Arabian, the American, and the Girl Scout flags. This year Saudi Arab girls will have advanced far enough in scouting to carry the flag of their country (green and white with beautiful calligraphy) when the colors are arrayed.

As guests and friends of their Saudi Arab sisters, the American girls have found an ideal outlet for their community service ambitions. Several years ago they "adopted" the Dar-El-Tifl refugee Arab orphanage in Palestine. The various Girl Scout groups raise money (they collected $700 one year), round up toys, and gather and ship clothing for the refugee orphans.

Each year one of the fathers drives the radio security car to the camp-out. He then turns it over to a trained counselor, who can get in touch instantly with the Senior Staff Camp at Dhahran in case of emergency. (The famous scouting "buddy system" used everywhere for swimming is also applied by the Scouts in Saudi Arabia to scavenger hunts that take the girls onto desert and dunes.)

"We've only used radio contact once," a leader said recently. "And then, thank goodness, it turned out to be sort of funny. We were on a cook-out and a huge cloud of gnats closed in. We radioed for insect spray. But we must have sounded frantic. They arrived with fifty cans of spray. But wouldn't you know, by that time the gnats were gone."

Scouting with a difference—wajid difference.


The Saudi Arabian Girl Scouts were also preceeded by the arrival in Saudi of the first Girl Scout Cookies, in 1950.

Girl Scout Cookies Arrive in Arabia
3 August 2009
In Search Of Oil
by Aramco ExPats

In 1950, the Girl Scout Cookie sale came to Saudi Arabia for the first time.

In the photograph below, fourteen-year old Mariner, Louise Snyder of Stamford, Connecticut, gives cartons of cookies to her father, L.M. Snyder, Vice-President of Arabian American Oil Company, to deliver to the Girl Scouts in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 9000 miles away. Mrs. D.S. Fink, co-leader of the Girl Mariners Troop 25 of Stamford looks on. Mr. Snyder is shown boarding the “Camel”, Aramco’s plane at Idlewild Airport in New York.

Arriving in 1940, Louise Snyder was one of the first American children in Dhahran. Here she is with her dolls in her backyard.

Louise, her brother Miles and her mother Dorothy had to leave Arabia after the Italian bombing of Dhahran and World War II. They returned in 1945. Here is Louise on her bike in 1947. In the background is the outdoor theater/tennis courts and behind them the light poles of the King’s Road ballpark.


In Canada we have Girl Guides (who also sell cookies!!!), and Brownies (ages 7-10, before Girl Guides) (who also sell cookies!!!). I was a Brownie for a year about age 9. I enjoyed it, especially getting out from under the toad stool and becoming a full Brownie!

I also remember it was my first experience of mothers carpooling--some were ruder than others about my living one block farther than the rest--and of marching in a parade. The latter was one of those childhood experiences of parents, and especially fathers, knowing everything. Like what an Amouries is, where to find the Armouries downtown, how to drive there, where to go in,  how to march.

I did sell cookies. I am not a salesperson. However, I was brave enough to go to the door of the foreboding looking house where the supposedly fearsome old lady (read, must therefore be a witch) lived. I don't recall her kidnapping and tormenting any of us though. I also don't recall how many boxes of cookies she bought.

Although there have been critics of the Scouting movement, seeing it as too paramilitary, too nationalistic, and too Christian, most often children around the world and of all origins gain a positive experience of organized play and sports with others beyond their immediate circles, acquire skills and feel a sense of accomplishment through earning badges and participating in new activities, and have opportunities for leadership training and practice, as they collaborate with peers or mentor young members. They also do get an appreciation for civic responsibilities and volunteer work.

In this sense, I think it is a good thing for both Saudi boys and girls (and their adult men and women mentors) to have these experiences in a culturally appropriate way. Helping with umrah is one, helping during the seemingly annual Jeddah floods is another. These experiences may well translate into other leadership roles, or participation in other civic minded volunteer organizations, like the YIG (Young Initiative Group)  or "Warmth": The National Winter Initiative دفء: المبادرة الوطنية.

Were you part of a Scouting organization as a child?
In what country?
What was your experience like?
If not, do you wish you had been?
Would you, did you send your own children to participate?
Cookie preference?
What do you think are the broader implications of a national Scouting movement?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Posts:
Saudi Arabia's Needy and Winter--"Warmth": The National Winter Initiative دفء: المبادرة الوطنية للشتاء

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Sounds promising!


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