Monday, February 17, 2014

Scouting Day

Scouts Cross A Rope Bridge

Here in Thailand, in addition to the yearly Elementary School Field Day, there is also a special day dedicated to Scouting.

All school children participate in a scouting program.  The scouting program seems to be modeled after Boy Scouts of America however boys, girls, and lady-boys all participate in the program.

Wednesday is scouting day at all Thai schools.  Boys and girls, grades 1 and above. attend school wearing their scouting uniforms.  During the day they are taught scouting and living skills.

Once a year they gather for an overnight jamboree where the elementary school scouts in grades 4, 5, and 6 demonstrate and practice their scouting skills.  The location of the jamboree rotates amongst the schools at the sub-district level.  Last week the honor of hosting the 200 scouts of Tambon Nongwha was given to Tahsang Village Elementary School.  Duang and I had attended the jamboree the last time that Tahsang Village hosted the event.

We arrived at the jamboree in the afternoon after participating in the setting of the first two columns for the new sala in Baan Mat. Upon parking our truck near the pavilion set up for dignitaries, some of the young men, older brothers and uncles of the scouts helping for the day, off loaded the truck of the five cases of soft drinks that we were donating, and several 8 cubic foot bags of various snack treats that Duang's son and cousin had donated for the scouts. Volunteering and making donations to support the children here in Isaan is wide spread.  Although the faculties of the schools were instrumental in organizing and supervising the day, they had plenty of support from mothers, grandmothers, fathers uncles, aunts, and other family members.the community here in Isaan is an extension of the families.

Off to the side behind where we had parked, many women were occupied preparing food and washing dishes in the school's outdoor facilities.  They were preparing food for all the adults involved in the day's activities.

After making our rounds of hellos to everyone, I was brought to the dignitary area to sit down with the local government officials who were observing the activities.  One of the teachers came to me with a glass that appeared to be lemon iced-tea.  It was a warm day and dusty for sure so I welcomed a refreshing drink.  I was shocked to discover  that what I assumed to be iced-tea was actually whiskey and soda water.  I had drunk about one-half of it when the teacher returned to top me up.  I thanked her and explained that I did not want to drink because I had to drive home.  As Duang explains to me ... "Thailand not like America"  I could not imagine drinking alcohol at a public school event being allowed in the USA let alone having it provided by the school!  Several more times during the day and night I was offered a drink but declined.  Although there was drinking, everyone behaved properly.

The seven camp sites around the perimeter of the Tahsang Village Elementary School had already been set up.  Each of the seven schools had their own encampment - a combination of small two person tents, a lean two shelter using a large tarp or a lean two created by erecting the ubiquitous pavilions used for funerals, weddings, or celebrations for monk ordinations and laying the assembly on its side on about  a 30 degree angle.  Saht, woven reed mats, were then placed upon the ground to complete the shelter.  Some of the campsites also had a properly erected pavilion which served as shelter from the sun and a place to rest during the day.

In the middle of the encampments was a large pile of wood stacked into a tepee shape - the bonfire for the evening program.  Several fluorescent light fixtures were mounted vertically on poles in a large circle around the wood pile.

Throughout the school grounds teams of scouts were engaged in many activities.  The scouts had been organized into teams of either 12 boys or 12 girls.  The team members came from many different schools. I surmise that the objective here was to have the scouts learn to work and cooperate with people that they may not necessarily be friends or even be familiar with.  Each of the teams had and identity, such as "dog", "rabbit", "monkey", and a flag which identified the team - a white background with a red picture of the animal.

The teams did not compete against each other or did they race against the clock.  The objective for each team was to visit each of the approximate 10 activity stations and have the entire team complete the objective.  Each of the activity stations was structured to teach a lesson as the scouts achieved the objective of the activity.  Some of the objectives were team related and some were individual related.

Behind the building that serves as the indoor assembly area for the students, the teams were faced with an activity that stressed the needs as well as benefits of cooperating as a team.  The team was split in two groups of 5 and two separate leaders for each group.  The groups were confronted  with two long and heavy wood timbers. Each timber had 5 sections of tire nailed to the top, forming stirrups.  The groups used the stirrups on their left and right feet to shuffle forward.  In order to move forward a prescribed distance and return to the starting point, it was necessary for the group members to synchronize their individual movements and their magnitude.  The individual leaders provided direction and a cadence for their group's efforts.  After completing the task, the adult scout gave a talk to the students and signed off on the team tally sheet for the activity.  The 12 person team then moved on to the next station.

The Rooster or Chicken Team Reports In to Activity Station
 Upon arrival at the next activity station, the team reported into the adult scout.  They lined up pretty much in formation and gave a chest salute to the adult as their leader and standard bearer announced their readiness for the task.

After the activity station of crossing a moat on a single rope bridge, the scouts moved on to a station where they climbed up a rope ladder to a tree limb and back down a similar ladder on the other side.  The ladder was a continuous ladder that was actually too long. If no one was counteracting the force of a climber on one side, the ladder would move towards the ground on the climber's side making climbing even more difficult.  The key to the team's success was for the team to ensure that climber's were on each side of the ladder at any given time as well as for team members to anchor the ladder at each end.  Again the activity stressed the benefits of cooperation and the need for individuals to act for the benefit of the team.

Not all the activity stations involved physical effort.  On the other side of the building that serves as the school assembly, one of the male teachers was bare chested, had a bright yellow smiley face painted on his ample belly, a bright pink cloth wrapped around his mouth and an Indian, as in Native American, headdress. He remained hidden out of view until a scout team had settled down on the ground.  To the sound of some drum beats and wild music, he would jump into view and perform a wild dance for about 5 to 10 seconds before quickly disappearing out of view once again.  An adult leader then questioned the team as to what had just happened and to describe their observations.  The scouts learned that they need to be observant and aware of their situation (situational awareness?) as well as that as a team their observations were more complete than any individual's observations.

Later in the afternoon as the teams had completed all the activity stations. they were called to assemble on the school play field.  There was a team of adult leaders, male and female, that played conga drums, tambourines, and finger cymbals along with singing.  I was extremely impressed with their professionalism and performances.  They sort of reminded me of tent revival evangelists and new age motivational speakers. The got the scouts involved in sing alongs and group body movements.  More importantly and impressive was how much fun and enthusiasm the scouts were exhibiting.  They were fully engaged with the scout leaders.  I asked Duang about the leaders.  It appeared to me that they were not your run of the mill volunteer parents.  She told me that the scout leaders had been trained and certified by the government.

Could have been "Simon Says" - Isaan Style

After the scouts had completed their group exercises with the adult leaders. the woman leader announced where the boy's and girl's bathroom areas were.  I thought that was a little odd since the scouts had been there since the morning and surely must have gone to the bathroom at least once so far in the day.  She also warned the girls not to go to the boys bathroom or they might grab them and "Boom Boom" them.  I know that there is now sex education in elementary schools in the USA but I doubt it is so blunt.

By this time I had to go to the bathroom, I knew that the teacher's bathrooms were located between the female and male student's bathrooms, - about 75 to 100 feet away.  Upon getting to the bathrooms everything made more sense to me.  Off to the right was the boy's bathrooms.  An outside shower had been set up next to the outhouses.  Poles had been placed in the ground with a 4 foot high tarps wrapped around them.  Inside boys were showering in the open air with their heads and shoulders exposed to view.  I suspect the same was true for the girls to my left but I did not look - no real need to know.

In addition to showering, the scouts also were responsible to launder their clothing from the day's activities.  The scouts were getting a good dose of personal responsibility.

Adults had prepared food and cooked foods but it was for the adults to eat.  The scouts had to prepare and cook their own meal.  Soon there were at least 7 small campfires burning upon which pots of ... rice were being cooked.

After going into town for our dinner, Duang and I returned to the jamboree for the evening program.  This time in addition to being another glass of whiskey and soda, a garland of banana blossoms was placed around my neck in thanks for our donation to the scouts.  We had returned with our grandson and five other small children from Tahsang Village.  They wanted to see the fire and show.  The children were very well behaved and we enjoyed their company until their relatives arrived later at night to take them home.

There was a very involved ceremony between the scouts and the local government dignitaries for lighting of the bonfire.  It turned out that the fluorescent fixtures were actually black-lights that created a dazzling effect on the body paint of the "Indians".  Once the bonfire had been set ablaze, the government officials and I had to join the Indians in dancing around the fire.  We did three revolutions around the fire.  I was able to show the scouts some dance moves from the late 1960s to their great amusement.

Each school then performed a skit.  After around the 4th skit of not having any idea of what was going on, I heard a khene behind me.  I saw a man sitting off to the side of one of the encampments, so I headed out to check it out.  By the time I arrived he had joined 4 other men who had been busy eating and definitely drinking.  Once again I had to decline the gracious offer of whiskey.  The men were having a great time. One man played the harmonic rhythmic music typical of Mahlam Lao and Mahlam Isaan music.  One man was playing percussion on the foam ice chest while a third man kept time by banging a metal spoon on an empty soda water bottle.  The fourth man sang songs.  The fifth man got up and had me get up to join him in a dance.  I know how and enjoy dancing Lao so once again I surprised the people.

This is how traditional Lao music started - small groups of villagers huddled around fires and playing music for their own entertainment.  For me it was special event to be able to witness and participate in.such a tradition.

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