Scouting offers young people a place to belong and build character – a place that represents the best of America and what it means to be an American. For Scouts in Troop 1532, they’ve come a long way from home in hopes of making a new home in America. It hasn’t been easy, yet through Scouting and the help of their dedicated Scoutmaster, they’re learning what it means to be an American and a Scout. Read on to learn more about this unique Scout refugee troop.
Bridging the Divide Through Scouting
Like many Scout troops, Troop 1532 is full of energy around the campfire, swapping camp side stories and roasting marshmallows. But this group isn’t your typical Scout troop – these boys speak a variety of languages and might also be preparing their favorite Congolese or Nepalese dishes by the fire versus a traditional American hamburger. These Scouts are learning to merge their cultures from countries like Tanzania, Malaysia, and Nepal with American traditions.
Scoutmaster PJ Parmar is the catalyst that’s helped make that happen.
Scoutmaster PJ drives Troop 1532 to a campout. (Photo via CNN)
“We just started off by taking five kids camping at a time. After that, it really becomes all word of mouth,” PJ shared with CNN.
The troop grew into what it is today thanks to Parmar’s family medical practice in the suburbs outside Denver, where he focuses on treating refugee families. He hopes Scouting will help the young men in the same way that it made a difference to him in his youth.
“Boy Scouts to me was a place of acceptance. I actually faced a lot of racism in the public schools growing up where I was, being in an immigrant family,” says Parmar. “When I joined the Boy Scouts, I found a very accepting group of friends.”
Parmar’s parents moved from India to Canada just before he was born. Just a year later, the family moved to Chicago where Parmar says he found it challenging to find his place in America.
Parmar says he notices a similar experience for the Scouts in his troop and hopes to utilize Scouting as a way to get them out of the house and into the outdoors.
“They’re learning to assimilate and they have to be like the other kids, not only to avoid racism, but just to advance in what they’re doing,” he explained. “We need to have these bridge areas where they can feel safe in what they do, but also become part of society.”
All of the gear Troop 1532 needs for outings is completely provided to them through Mango House, a non-profit Parmar launched as a center for refugee services. Items like sleeping bags, tents and hiking gear are available for the Scouts without any personal expense.
“We don’t expect them to show up with anything more than a shirt on their back,” Parmar says.
Scouts at the campfire. (Photo via CNN)
A Place Where Kids Can Be Kids
Scouting offers youth an opportunity to come together and experience shared values, while also having a great time along the way.
Tapas K., a 13-year-old refugee from Nepal, is the senior troop leader. He’s also the only member of his family who speaks English.
“I gotta check my mom’s bank account. I gotta check my dad’s. I gotta pay bills from my dad’s bank account, and for the car and stuff,” he shared with CNN at the Scouts’ campsite. “I feel relief here, ’cause I don’t have to do all the work, and I get to hang out with my friends, have fun.”
Justin M., who was born in Tanzania, and moved to the US from a refugee camp in the Congo, says being a part of Troop 1532 has helped him learn critical skills like how to speak English.
“I’m so proud of myself, I’m going in high school and I speak good English now. I can talk to other people. I can meet other nice people,” he beamed.
The Future of Refugee Troops in Scouting
Scouting canoeing near camp. (Photo via CNN)
Parmar is working to ensure that economic and racial diversity is prioritized in Scouting and beyond. He also leads Venture Crew 1532, a group of female Scouts.
“Working with the Scouts has helped to bring me back to my own roots, my own culture,” Parmar says. “Now being able to relate to them it’s helped me, remind me of where I came from.”
Read more about PJ’s inspiring narrative and how he’s serving refugees in Troop 1532 by reading the full story from CNN. We invite you to share this story in your council to highlight this unique Scouting experience.