When Hurricane Matthew pummelled Haiti in October 2016, leaving more than 500 people dead and some 175,000 people in emergency shelters, Benjamin Antoine was at home in the country’s capital Port-au-Prince. The region around the town of Jérémie further to the east was thought to be worst-affected, but phone lines were down, and roads destroyed. Antoine, who had joined the Movement as a Cub in the 1990s and now had special training in satellite communications, immediately offered to help. Within hours, he was on a UN helicopter with fellow Scout Steeve Pauleus, on the way to the heart of the disaster.
The scene that greeted them was one of utter destruction – trees uprooted, and debris in the streets. More than 80% of buildings had been destroyed. The two men spent ten days in Jérémie, helping restore vital communications that would enable relief agencies to co-ordinate an effective response to the disaster. Local Scouts, meanwhile, were on the ground too, creating a register of all those affected, providing first aid where needed and delivering food and essentials to those without water or shelter.
Founder Robert Baden-Powell saw Scouting as a “universal brotherhood of service,” and records show that Scouts have spent a collective one billion hours on projects designed to help their communities and make the world a better place, as part of the Messengers of Peace programme. It’s not only the major disasters – like the hurricane in Haiti or last year’s earthquake in Mexico – where Scouts have been making a difference.
Many of the hours that have contributed to the one billion milestone have involved smaller scale projects – building a bamboo bridge for a village in Indonesia’s Java, operating a soup kitchen in South Africa, taking refugee children on a friendship hike in the Australian bush, or even going “plogging” (picking up plastic and jogging) in Ecuador.Every hour that’s been added on scout.org since 2012, represents the time when each Scout did a good turn to help others.
The count is not about numbers, it’s designed to illustrate the power of collective change. More ambitious service projects, which make a Scout a Messenger of Peace and eligible for the Messengers of Peace badge, describe a group of Scouts working together to plan, develop and implement a project designed to help others. These projects are part of the Better World Framework and often linked to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, better known as the SDGs.
Some Scouts, like Safidy Randriamitantsoa, who’s been in the Movement since he was a child, focus their attention on issues that have been neglected by others. Randriamitantsoa has spent the past three years working to break the silence surrounding menstrual hygiene and reproductive health in Madagascar where sanitary pads and tampons are too costly for many women. His work falls under SDG goal six, which relates to clean water and sanitation.
“Menstrual hygiene and menstruation is a taboo subject in Madagascar,” Randriamitantsoa said. “It is very complicated to talk about it openly. I am ready to speak, to raise awareness, to advocate in the favour of girls and women, and provide them with good access to hygiene and sanitation.”
As a man, it has been especially difficult for Randriamitantsoa to address such a sensitive topic, but he has persevered, leading campaigns to raise awareness among the population on the need to improve standards of sexual and reproductive health for girls and women in Madagascar, and raising funds to provide the washable sanitary kits that are more affordable and environmentally-friendly than traditional sanitary products. The Scout is now stepping up his efforts with an appeal for funds on the Scout Donation Platform so he can extend the work to even more communities in what is one of the world’s poorest countries. Back in the Caribbean, the Scouts of Haiti’s nationwide network of emergency units were ready and prepared for Hurricane Matthew some 24 hours before the storm was due to make landfall. Some, like Antoine had helped provide relief during other natural disasters – the hurricanes of 2004 and 2008, and the earthquake of 2010 that left as many as 300,000 dead.
But together, the country’s Scouts helped a devastated nation their recover,
“looking upon their neighbours as brothers and sisters in the human family, allied together with the common air of service and sympathetic helpfulness towards each other,” as Baden-Powell dreamed in the 1st World Scout Conference nearly 100 years ago.
One billion hours is an achievement worth marking, but it’s what those young people have done together that’s truly worth celebrating. —- We have prepared a #1BillionHours Communication Pack to celebrate this historic milestone within your Scout network and with your national and local media. The #1BillionHours Communication Pack contains: