Even after the shortest tourist tour, it’s clear that the scout center located in a suburb in Rustavi is one of the most impressive buildings in the whole industrial town. Bright red walls, a cosy fireplace and a small swimming pool stand out in the scenery that is only colored by bed sheets and clothes that hang on the balconies.
Founded in 2013 and influenced by the Swiss, the scout center consists of the continuously growing campus and two camping areas elsewhere in Georgia. At the moment, the scouts are building another conference room on the campus as well as a third camping area. The restaurant on the campus has been finished very recently.
In the beginning, the center was founded with the help of Swiss scouts. These days all the expenses are covered by renting the center for other youth projects such as Erasmus+.
Spreading the word
80 percent of the visitors come from outside of Georgia which doesn’t only speak for the high quality of the center but gives away that despite everything, scouting is still at an early stage in Georgia. According to the volunteers, there are approximately 2000 scouts in the country of 3,7 million citizens.
— We who live in Rustavi are lucky as the scout center offers us many international opportunities. At least 70 percent of the local youth knows, what scouting is. Elsewhere in Georgia there is very little knowledge and few opportunities to participate so some people can’t even imagine anything like this, says Data Tsiklauri, one of the volunteers in the center.
Tsiklauri joined the scouts at adult age when he noticed that his earlier leadership experience could come to use once developing the national scout organization. He thinks the Georgian scouts’ next big challenge is spreading the word to help more young people to find themselves a hobby.
Examples for around the world
Georgian youth worker and trainer Giorgi Kekelidze says that in order to improve the organization, the Georgians have to create their own national scouting program, for instance, in the fashion of Finland or Denmark.
— We have copied some good practices from Switzerland and the UK, but for now we do not have our own scouting program, says Kekelidze.
This is where the international scout center of Rustavi can become even more important as international cooperation can be the key to making great things happen. For instance, a leadership course that was organized last January and gathered together a group of Georgian, Ukrainian, Finnish and Danish youngsters evoked an idea of a development project between the scouts of Georgia and Denmark. If the project comes true, its main goal will be creating a scouting program that is based on the Danish model but suits the Georgian youth.
— Multicultural encounters can make a big difference also in a single person’s life. I see a lot of Georgian youngsters and those who have been able to participate in international project have a lot more abilities. That makes me believe that multicultural working offers new tools to thinking and learning, Kekelidze says.
Charmed by the Georgian kindness
Aino Halinen from Finland and Annemette Mejlvang Guldbæk from Denmark participated in the leadership course in Rustavi in January. Beside leadership, the course taught them a lot about the Georgian culture and the local ways of scouting.
— The Georgian scouts have the tools but also a lot to work on. Scouting isn’t as well-known here as it is in Finland where you can hear and see the scouts everywhere, Halinen says.
On the 7-day-course, the participants discussed the many differences between then Georgian, Ukrainian and Scandinavian ways of scouting. Here, up in the North, the children get to practice using a knife as soon as they join the scouts whereas in Georgia, knives are seen as dangerous weapons.
Mejlvang Guldbæk found this very interesting — the different ways of acting and reacting. However, the most impressing thing to experience was the hospitality of the Georgians.
— You can’t deny it looks sad here in Rustavi, but the locals are so, so friendly, Mejlvang Guldbæk says.
Both Halinen and Mejlvang Guldbæk returned home with a lot of new information on leadership.
— I learnt that leadership skills are important in many different roles and situations. The leader doesn’t always have to stand out in a group as his or her job can simply be communicating and leading the group forward, Mejlvang Guldbæk summarises.
Writer’s note: Scouts can have a big role in improving the well-being of the Georgians
Like Aino and Annemette, I as well had the chance to participate on the leadership course in the international scouting center of Rustavi. It’s often challenging to summarise a trip like this one in a few sentences but this time, the most important lesson I learnt on my way is clear as day: if we put effort in Georgian scouting, it can make a big difference on the well-being of the country’s youth.
In the course as well as in Finland, non-formal education has lately been an important topic of speech. In areas where the traditional schools can’t offer all the necessary tools for the future, different kinds of associations can step in to fill in on the missing skills and knowledge and help the youngsters to find their own interests.
Only one of the Georgian kids on the course was a scout while the rest was integrated in youth work in other ways. Just like me, this boy scout named Giorgi saw scouting as an opportunity to improve his skills in many different areas such as leadership, photography and videography. He was a proof that getting better at something doesn’t depend on the resources but on the willingness to learn.
When the scout center was under construction, it caused jealousy among the neighbours. These days the center aims to support the community by offering little jobs in the garden to the local kids. Scouting has many different ways to do good for the world around us.