A Buckhead-based Boy Scout troop has caught the eye of the scouting community by forging a friendship with a group of scouts from across the world.
Troop 370, from St. James United Methodist Church, has formed a five-year partnership with a scout troop in Uganda through a program with the United Methodist Church called Scouting Bridges.
In December, eight scouts and four leaders from Troop 370 traveled to Uganda and stayed with a scout troop in a village outside the capital city of Kampala.
In June, Ugandan scouts traveled to Atlanta to experience what life is like in America.
“It’s meant to put together kids from two very different backgrounds,” said Scoutmaster Harry Evans. “We’re developing relationships, not just going on a trip. It’s about more than just the time you visited. It’s about staying in touch with them in their lives.”
Evans said Boy Scout groups rarely do any international travel, so the Scouting Bridges program has received a lot of interest from the World Scouting Foundation.
“When you do it, it’s generally done as one trip,” Evans said. “To form a long-term partnership is highly unusual.”
Troop 370 hopes to travel to Uganda and bring Ugandan scouts to Georgia once a year over the next four years to continue the bonds they have formed.
“I don’t know where it’s going, but over the five years I think it could develop into a pretty big deal,” Evans said.
They hope to expand the program, too. Evans said they are looking to bring three more Atlanta-area troops with them when they return to Uganda in December.
Scouting is very different for Ugandans, Evans said. The median age in Uganda is 14,due to the toll things like disease, famine and war have taken on its people.
While scouting in America focuses on values like character development and leadership, scouts in Uganda learn things like sustainable farming and HIV prevention.
“They’re trying to teach them how to survive,” Evans said. “It’s not an easy thing to even make it to adulthood.”
When the boys from Troop 370 were in Uganda, Evans said they did a service project that showed them the extent of the poverty that exists in the world.
“We built an outhouse for a lady who had a number of grandchildren living with her. She had no bathroom,” Evans said.
He said the trip inspired some of the guys — mostly high school-aged Eagle Scouts — to want to help more people in developing nations.
“Some of those boys came back and said, ‘that’s the kind of thing I want to study in college,’” Evans said.
Though only a few scouts were able to travel to Africa, the rest of the troop — made up of boys from Riverwood, North Atlanta and Holy Innocents’ high schools, among others — were able to spend time with the Ugandan scouts in June.
While staying in Georgia, the scouts from Uganda went to camp in Blue Ridge and then stayed with families in Atlanta. They did some touring and took part in everyday activities such as playing sports and attending church.
Fontaine Kohler, whose son is a member of Troop 370, helped organize the trip for the Ugandan troop to travel to Atlanta. She said it was rewarding to see the trip come together.
She said it was fun to watch the two groups learn new things from each other.
“It’s a really heart-warming experience. These kids came over here and were exposed to so many activities and sights that they’ve never experienced. To share that with them was very exciting,” Kohler said.
Evans said it was hard to watch the group return to Uganda.
“When they left there wasn’t a dry eye. Everyone was crying about being separated,” Evans said.