Janaprith Fernando, an Attorney-at-Law, was recently made a member of the ‘World Scout Committee’ of the World Organization of the Scout Movement 2017-20. This is the biggest achievement by a member in the 105-year history of the Sri Lanka Scout Association The following are excerpts of an interview done with Fernando.
Q Congratulations on your election to the World Scout Committee. This is the first such achievement by a Sri Lankan in the history of scouting during the last century. Tell us about your journey in scouting and how you feel after achieving such a rare feat.
My association with scouting began in 1979 when I joined the 39th Colombo Scout Group of S.Thomas’ Prep School, Kollupitiya as a junior scout. I took part in all activities and events and strove to do my best. After joining I was able to work with my friends as a team. We were put into patrols where there were 8-9 members whose ages ranged from 11-15 years. Working and engaging in activities in a patrol helped us do things better and learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As for me, ever since I became a scout I was appointed as the class monitor every year until my O/Level Examination. I accepted these appointments with pleasure and considered them as opportunities to serve. Since the age of 11years I have enjoyed serving others. I grab every opportunity I get to serve my community, neighbours, colleagues and the less fortunate. This has, I believe, helped me today to obtain the support and votes of over 100 countries and now can serve the World Scout Committee during the period 2017-20. The World Scout Committee has a membership of over 42 million.
Q How do you see the importance of this position from a Sri Lankan perspective?
There are over 215 countries and territories which have scouting for young people. Out of these countries 169 are members of the world organization of the scout movement which is known as National Scout Organizations (NSO). Surprisingly the NSO wasn’t aware of the existence of Sri Lanka. By carrying out this election campaign we were able to forge relationships and have discussions with many countries affiliated with the NSO. We were able to identify our strengths and weaknesses and share knowledge with them. This appointment will enable Sri Lanka to obtain support from other affiliates of NSO. It is also an opportunity for Sri Lankan scouts to support other affiliates of the NSO, thus creating an exchange program for young members and leaders. Further with a Sri Lankan sitting in the World Scout Committee we could be proud that one of us is among 12 committee members taking decisions and implementing them for the benefit of the entire scout population.
Q It was recorded even in the Hansard that no scout was a part of 1971 Insurgency and this was due to the discipline instilled in members of the Scouting movement. Can you outline this code of discipline?
Our founder Lord Baden Powell wrote the book ‘Scouting for Boys’ and included everything a scout must do and mustn’t do. Most importantly he gave us 10 scout laws and 3 scout promises to follow. The laws in short are; trusty, loyal, friendly, brotherly, courageous, kind to animals, co-operative, cheerful, thrifty and clean in thought, word and deed. The 3 promises are duty, obey and help. Every scout is obliged to practice and follow the said laws and promises and this will automatically make the scout not get involved in any activity which is unacceptable. That is why we proudly say that we are A-political and open to all races, religions and also to the differently abled.
Q What was the contribution by scouts during the long-drawn war and two other youth uprisings?
Even during the war scouting activities continued in all districts of Sri Lanka. Scouts of the North continued to visit the South and attend Jamborees and Camporees regularly. Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim scouts camped under one tent as brothers taking care of each other. This helped give a clear message to others that all races could live together in harmony. Further the scouts of North and South shared their knowledge and learned from each other. Scouts from the South experienced the warm hospitality of the North and vise-versa. In addition scouts have always rendered their services in times of natural disasters in the country. I recall how we were mobilized to work in refugee camps during the 1983 riots .
Q At a time when parents fuss so much about education, examinations, and tuition, wouldn’t they think that the time spent on scouting is a waste? What is your message to parents?
Any parent, whose child isn’t involved in scouting, may say so, but not those parents whose children are in the movement. I say this because I am sure they are aware of leadership qualities and discipline their children have acquired. These parents are also aware that their children can adapt to any situation. They also know that the all-round training they receive can’t be compared with any other training. I can say this as a parent because my son is a scout and daughter is a girl guide. We as a family engage in many things which others may not be able to because of the scout training. Therefore the time spent on scouting isn’t a waste, but a very worthwhile investment. This is the message I would lov
e to give all parents. In fact in most other countries parents get involved in giving their time and helping s
cout troops. We should encourage this culture in Sri Lanka too.
Q What are the challenges the Sri Lankan Scouting Movement is facing at present?
Scouting in Sri Lanka is mostly school based. Therefore the involvement of a teacher is mandatory. But due to various reasons today’s teachers are reluctantly compelled to get less involved in extra curricular activities in schools. This is a big challenge we are facing in getting scout troops started and continuing them in schools. The other of course is the lack of resources and funds in most schools, especially in the rural areas where most children can’t even afford to buy a uniform for themselves, let alone shoes and socks.
Q Has the younger generation being widely attracted to the digital era affected the Scout Movement in Sri Lanka?
The digital era, in my opinion, has affected all segments of society. However there is no serious affect on the Sri Lanka Scouting Movement due to this. But most countries have introduced digital games based on scouting, various apps on scouting and GPRS for hikes in addition to the compass we use. So there are both advantages and disadvantages being in this digital era. We should try and capitalize on the advantages of the digital era and make good use of this for the benefit of the Scouting Movement.
Q In a highly competitive world, how do you promote and instill important values like serving others, maintaining ethical standards and promoting unity? Would this be seen by the younger generation as trying to swim against the current?
Definitely not. As stated before, scouts continue to practice these values. In our progressive badge scheme for scouts- of which the highest award is the President’s Award which a scout should win before his 18th birthday- we have introduced so many badges and tests. In order to qualify for them, scouts have to engage in certain service projects and put in a certain number of days and hours in to their service. From the tender age of 7 years we teach our young members the dignity of labour, to serve humanity and respect others. Through such thinking we are able to inculcate in our members the value of maintaining ethical standards and promoting peace and unity. The World Organization of the Scout Movement commenced a programme titled ‘Messengers of Peace’ a few years ago. This initiative encourages scouts to carry out community service projects. This programme has been well accepted by most scouts and lots of service projects are been carried out almost on a daily basis.
Working and engaging in activities in a patrol helped us do things better and learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As for me, ever since I became a scout I was appointed as the class monitor every year until my O/Level Examination. I accepted these appointments with pleasure and considered them as opportunities
This appointment will enable Sri Lanka to obtain support from other affiliates of NSO. It is also an opportunity for Sri Lankan scouts to support other affiliates of the NSO, thus creating an exchange program for young members and leaders. Further with a Sri Lankan sitting in the World Scout Committee we could be proud that one of us is among 12 committee members
These parents are also aware that their children can adapt to any situation. They also know that the all-round training they receive can’t be compared with any other training. I can say this as a parent because my son is a scout and daughter is a girl guide. We as a family engage in many things which others may not be able to because of the scout training. Therefore the time spent on scouting isn’t a waste
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