From living in a refugee camp in northern Rwanda to camping for fun in the Rocky Mountains, brothers Jean T., 15, and Moise T., 12, have a story not many kids their age can relate to—except for their fellow Boy Scout troop members, that is.
The brothers’ parents fled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) more than 20 years ago, seeking refuge from the country’s violence and political instability. Having grown up in Rwanda’s Gihembe refugee camp, the brothers experienced a major cultural shift when the family moved to Colorado in 2014. However, the boys found the perfect way to adjust to their new American home—Scouting!
As luck (or fate) would have it, Troop 1532 had been established that very year in the Denver Area Council. This particular troop was a great fit for the brothers because since its founding, the unit has been made almost entirely of adventurous young boys from refugee families.
Multiple nations are represented within the troop, so the Scouts get to experience many different cultures. According to the AP, campfire favorites in this unique unit consist of dishes from the Scouts’ home countries, such as “Chipate” and fish head stew. But of course, campouts are still made complete with S’mores.
Scouting gives the boys a way to acclimate to their new communities in a safe, comfortable environment with friends who can relate to the challenges refugee youths face.
“It’s somewhere where they can be totally unafraid to be their authentic self,” troop leader Justin Wilson explains.
BSA Communications Director Effie Delimarkos explained that Scouting is one of the only youth programs so well-equipped to teach American culture. For example, the Boy Scouts program emphasizes crucial topics such as the importance of Duty to Country and proactive citizenship.
“Scouting also helps build resiliency in children that have lived through more than any child should have to bear,” Delimarkos told the AP.
Physician and Scouter Dr. P.J. Parmar originally started the troop along side his Denver-area clinic, which cares for refugee families. Through Parmar’s efforts, families who may not be aware of BSA programs are presented with Scouting’s opportunities.
In addition to their Scouting peers, Scouts also have the benefit of being able to relate to adults in the troop, due to similar life experiences within the unit’s leadership
“I have an advantage because I’m from a minority background,” Parmar explains. According to the AP, sharing this perspective helps the doctor engage and connect with troop members on an imperative level.
The leadership skills and character development taught through Scouting is certainly noticeable to others, including Jean’s father, Jean Batacoka.
Batacoka, a father of five, told the AP he can see the impact Scouting has made on his children, thanks to the dedication of the troop’s leadership.
With the help of a translator, Batacoka recounts how he’s watched his children grow through Scouting.
“What they do down there is not just leadership, because they learn discipline, how to behave, how to respect people who are older than them,” the father shared with the AP. “I think it’s a really good thing for them, and I can see something is happening.”
Learn more about Troop 1532 by reading the full story from the Associated Press.