The Rebirth of Scouting in Afghanistan:
A History of the Afghan Scouts
The Rebirth of Scouting in Afghanistan is a story about Afghan people and their communities. It is the history of adult Afghan Scout leaders reclaiming their heritage and taking responsibility for developing Afghan youth consistent with the country’s cultural and Islamic values. The Afghan Scout movement also reflects the desire of Afghan citizens to reach out to and engage with other countries. Scouting facilitates this engagement through a relationship with leaders in the Asia Pacific region of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, a diverse 40 million strong body of Scout members of all religions and races.
Afghan Scouting was founded in October 1931 by King Nadir Shah as an association for Afghan boys; it was approved by the Afghan Ministry of Education. In 1933 this new Afghan Scouting Association was accepted into the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) as a member of the International Scout Conference. In subsequent years the Afghan Scout Movement continued to exist on a small scale, hampered by lack of funding and proper training. Things changed in 1957 when King Zaher Shah took a keen interest in Scouting and supported the expansion of the Afghan Scouting Movement; membership soared to 18,000 youth nationally.
In 1960 the first troops of girls joined the Afghan Scouting Society and in 1964 the Afghan Scout movement reregistered with WOSM, this time as a Scout youth organization supported by the Afghan government but with the independent governance of an association. By 1978, the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the Afghan Scouting movement had grown to include over 36,000 registered youth located in troops all across Afghanistan.
During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan the Afghan Scout Movement went downhill. Government leaders changed the mission of the Scout Association to serve government propaganda, and youth were indoctrinated into communist values. The government also attempted to use Scouts troops to control communities as an extension of the police force. As a result, Afghan Scout Masters during that time refused to participate and the Scouting Movement died as the war continued.
In 2002, after the fall of the Taliban and 32 years after the Russian invasion, the new transitional government of Afghanistan attempted to restart the Afghan Scout Movement through funding from the UN and through the Afghan Ministry of Education. 20,000 youth were registered as Afghan Scouts and leaders were recruited and paid through the ministry. The impetus of the original Afghan Scout Movement shone through in communities and in volunteers, and also via the efforts of Afghan Scout Masters who formed the Afghan Scout Society in partnership with the Afghan government. Yet reconstructing the organization with leaders, Scouting materials, uniforms and programming was a challenge.
In 2008, PARSA, an 18 year-old NGO based in Afghanistan, initiated a campaign to support the reestablishment of the Afghan Scout Movement by receiving permission from the government to start Scout troops in national orphanages. PARSA was able to receive donor funding to establish a Scout department, and PARSA hired Scout Masters who were involved in establishing a grassroots effort to restart the national Scout Movement. These Scout Masters reconnected with WOSM and received training and support from mentors in the WOSM Asia Pacific region. The PARSA Afghan Scout National Training Center was established and PARSA developed a strategic campaign to reestablish a nation-wide and community-based volunteer Afghan Scout Movement.
PARSA’s Afghan Scouts in 2014
Over the course of the last five years PARSA staff has grown the Afghan Scouts program to establish troops in 13 provinces (Kabul, Baghlan, Parwan, Bamiyan, Nangarhar, Ghor, Takhar, Badakshan, Balkh, Kunduz, Herat, Samangan, and Jowzjan) with over 1800 registered youth: 40% girls and 60% boys. Activities include weekly meetings, community service projects, a merit badge program that now includes 11 activities badges conceived by our senior Afghan Scout Masters, and a Scout Master training program conducted in partnership with WOSM which permits our volunteer Scout Masters to earn WOSM certification.
As of November 2015, PARSA’s Scout team has worked with Scout Masters from across the country to establish a separate volunteer Afghan Scout governance association led by Scout Masters who managed troops before the Soviet invasion of 1978. The founding members of the Volunteer Scout Association include government officials, businessmen and women as well as experienced Afghan Scout masters. This is the first step for Afghanistan and the Afghan Scouts to be recognized by WOSM in the post war era.
PARSA staff has provided critical leadership in the rebirth of the Afghan Scout movement, finding donors who will sponsor Scout troops and buy uniforms for children, hosting training programs for Scout Masters, advocating for the Volunteer Scout Association and monitoring the expanding program to make sure all youth activities are consistent with the Afghan Scout philosophy.
In the next five years, PARSA and the Afghan Scout leadership want to make Afghan Scouts membership available to youth in every province of Afghanistan. PARSA will continue to focus on making the Scouts program available to vulnerable Afghan youth, support the training of Afghan Scout Masters, and assist the growth of the Volunteer Scout Association so that Afghanistan can once again become a part of the World Scout Association. PARSA is committed to this opportunity to help Afghan communities develop strong youth leaders who will contribute to rebuilding of Afghanistan.
Pictures from the Past
Enjoy this collection of photographs from Afghan Scouting history. They were provided by our Scout Program director, Tamim Hamkar. If you recognize any of the pictures please feel free to comment on them (by number) in the comments section below.