One thing that’s a normal part of growing up in the United States is Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Many of us probably participated in these organizations when we were younger and our children may have as well. In Iraq, that’s been quite a different story. Thanks to coalition volunteers though, that’s quickly changing.
The Scouting program in Iraq, was originally founded in the 1920’s by the British personnel who were stationed in Iraq at the time. The scouts in Iraq were members of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), which supports scout programs all over the world. When Saddam Hussein came into power, the program was changed from it’s original roots into a paramilitary organization. Because of that, it lost the support of the WOSM.
During that period, there was an underground movement that upheld the original ideals of the WOSM. However assisting and participating in that movement was very dangerous and a person risked being jailed or murdered if they participated in the underground movement.
In 2004, the Green Zone Council, formed of volunteers, was founded to assist in the local efforts to revitalize the Iraqi Scouting to it’s former ideals and position of leadership in the middle east. They have worked with local groups to advance the strategic goals of the Iraqi Scouting Council, which oversees scouting programs in all of Iraq.
The Iraqi Scouting Council works closely with the Ministry of Education on the program. According to the Green Zone Council’s website there are currently more than 150,000 youth who are members of the Iraqi Scouting in all 18 provinces in the country, as well as several thousand leaders. The Green Zone Council working closely with the Ministry of Education have raised money for training and equipment, been host to meetings of senior Iraqi scouts and made sure those funds were available to help advance the organizational goals and missions of the Iraqi Scouting.
Following the British system of organization, according to Army 1st Lt. Amy Staub, co-chairman of the Green Zone Council, Iraqi Scouts are called Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Other than the difference in names, this program is very similar in structure to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. The scouts in Iraq, like their counterparts in other countries are expected to abide by a law that governs their conduct and they are taught leadership skills, how to practice tolerance and respect and they are encouraged to have strong pride in their nation. Like the scouts here, they are able to participate in events meant to strengthen their friendships with each other and to build self-confidence.
Many of the Green Zone Council volunteers, have been involved in scouting programs in the United States, so they were eager to help establish this scouting program in Iraq. One such volunteer, Spc. Donald Willilams volunteered to spend his Saturdays helping with the Scouts. He says his love for scouting comes from helping with his cousins’ Cub Scout pack at home.
“I’ve always loved being involved,” he said. “Whether it be showing them how to tie knots, doing some physical fitness training, or even raising money for them. I’m glad I found out about this program so I can continue to help out even while I’m here.”
Currently there are about 30-50 volunteers involved with the Green Zone Council. Membership is open to all Coalition Members who’d like to volunteer their time. There is no set amount of time that the volunteers have to spend, as the council is aware that mission does come first. Volunteer opportunities can range from helping to facilitate meetings and events or assist in fundraising.
“Volunteering to help is more than worth it,” said Lt. Col. Tina Flanagan. “Judging by the expressions on their faces, you can tell how much they love this.”
This is a wonderful program and one that I’m proud of our Coalition Troops, for becoming involved in. Please take the time to visit the Green Zone Council’s webpage and read about what they’re doing, to help the Iraqi children and to bring normalcy into the lives of these children. One look at the faces of the children, convince me that this program is living up to it’s intentions.