This article titled “First Buddhist Scout group in UK launches in Manchester” was written by Frances Perraudin North of England reporter, for The Guardian on Saturday 2nd December 2017 18.49 Asia/Kolkata
When Robert Baden-Powell, a lieutenant general in the British army, first published Scouting for Boys – the text that was to kickstart the scouting movement in 1908 – he cannot have foreseen what it would become.
The Scouts is now the world’s largest youth movement, with 40 million members across most countries. The Scout Association in the UK, which has been co-educational at all levels since 1991, has 618,000 members, with the family set to become even bigger and more diverse.
On Sunday, the UK’s first Buddhist Scout group will launch in Manchester. While it will cater primarily to young people from the city’s Buddhist community, it will be open to all young people in the local area who want to take part in Scouting.
Set up by the Manchester chapter of the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA), the group will meet at the Manchester Fo Guang Shan temple every Sunday. More than 20 young people aged between eight and 14, and five adult leaders, have signed up so far.
Dr Mun-Kit Choy, a research scientist at Manchester University who moved to the UK from Malaysia 10 years ago, will form part of the new group’s volunteer leadership team. He argues that the values of Scouting complement those of Buddhism – encouraging people to “do good things, say good words and keep good thoughts”.
“We want to give our children a lot more than just Buddhism,” says Choy. “We don’t want them to just sit there doing chanting or meditating. We want them to get a holistic education.”
Although it was originally conceived along Christian lines, the Scouts have welcomed people from other religions for much of their history. While Buddha’s Light Scouts is the first Buddhist Scouting group in the UK, it is not the first non-Christian one, with Hindu, Muslim and Sikh groups around the country. The Muslim Scout Fellowship has been in existence in the UK since 2005 and a variation of the uniform with a headscarf was created in 2012.
“Contrary to recognised misconceptions, Scouting is not a Christian-focused, white, middle-class organisation, but rather a system that embraces all religions, ethnicities and backgrounds,” writes the Muslim Scout Fellowship on its website.
While the movement has been historically tolerant of a range of religions, the same cannot be said for atheism, with Baden-Powell having described atheists as “enemies of the worst sort”. In 2014, atheist Scouts were for the first time given the option to swear a Scout’s promise that replaced “duty to God” with “uphold our Scout values”.
Choy argues that by encouraging children to leave the temple in Old Trafford and do work in the community in order to get their badges, the group will facilitate the further integration of Manchester’s Buddhist community.
“Especially in Manchester – which is very multicultural – we want our children to see communities that are not just the Chinese communities, or the Buddhist communities,” he says. Choy’s seven-year-old daughter is one of the cubs in the group. “She’s really excited thinking about getting badges.”
This year the Scouts in the UK has seen its 12th year of continuous growth – up 7.8% this year. The organisation has called for more adult volunteers to cater for the 55,000 children on its waiting list, the longest in its history.
Welcoming the launch of the new group, Bear Grylls, TV personality and chief Scout, said his job was to make sure that “every young person in the UK has the chance to enjoy the Scouting adventure and develop skills for life”.
“But I can’t do this alone,” he said. “The more people like Mun-Kit Choy who take the initiative to open Scout groups in their community, means more kids get to experience the incredible adventure and life skills that are found in Scouting. Thank you for helping us change lives.”
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