Boy and Girl Scouts in Afghanistan?

An Afghan charity has worked to rejuvenate Afghanistan's coed Scouting program. It has 2,000 Scouts and more than 100 Scout leaders spread around the county.

PARSA, the group that got the clothes collected by Maryland Boy Scout John Ferry to the cave dwellers of Bamiyan, has worked to revive Scouting in Afghanistan since 2009.

PARSA is one of the country’s oldest charities, with programs to train teachers and social workers to deal with psychological issues in orphanages and schools, to help women start small businesses and to provide education to women and children who can’t attend traditional schools for various reasons.

It first got involved in Scouting as a way to instill values in older children it was training to help in orphanages, said Keith Blackey, PARSA’s Scouting adviser.

Now it has 2,000 Scouts and more than 100 Scout leaders spread around the county, and it’s emphasizing training more Scout leaders as a way to expand Scouting.

Like most of the 181 countries with Scouting, but unlike the United States, Afghan Scout troops are co-ed, and about 40 percent of the Scouts are girls. Boys wear long pants and a pale green uniform shirt, and girls wear a green uniform tunic over their pants and a pale blue headscarf under their Scout cap. Both wear the usual kind of Scout activity badge, though Afghanistan being what it is, one is for Rule of Law.

Scouting in Afghanistan has a convoluted history. It started in 1931, and by 1977 it boasted 36,000 Scouts. When the Soviets invaded in 1978, they turned the program into one for young communists. When the Taliban took over, they banned Scouting outright.

Now, despite the occasional accusation from a conservative cleric that the Scouts are campfire worshippers, the program is growing so quickly that PARSA recently hired Blackey, a grizzled Vietnam veteran who helped restart the Scouting movement in Iraq. Blackey is the only foreigner in Afghanistan’s Scout program; PARSA is trying to ensure that Scouting is sustainable in Afghanistan, Western help or not.

Scout meetings here are similar to those in the United States, Blackey said, with the same opening routine, and instruction and practice in a skill instruction like first aid or knot tying. Campouts, however, aren’t possible because of the obvious security issues.

“The way to improve this country long term has to be through the children, and I believe Scouting is a tool that can help create leaders,” Blackey said. “If I thought soccer was a tool that could do that, I’d promote soccer, but this is a tool that has worked, and worked well, for 100 years.”

“The goal is to teach them to be leaders in a place where there really aren’t many, and to make them responsible for their own lives and their communities,” he said.

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