BY: GAYANE KHECHOOMIAN
The Scouts of Homenetmen’s “Glendale” Ararat Chapter recently returned from their 26th Annual week-long summer camping trip.
More than 250 scouts attended the camp from August 16-22 at the Mataguay Scouting Reservation in San Diego; many having attended in past years.
This annual camping trip has become a highlight in the year of scouting as all the their acquired knowledge is put to use in a week filled with challenges for its leadership as well as younger members that eager to learn the ways of the scout. In fact, many of the older scouts head out a day early to set up what they call a “bourg” or fortress. This fortress is usually made up of at least fifty long poles, many of them twenty feet in height and the whole thing takes a couple of days to erect. This year, the scouts built a fortress running thirty feet in height, held together only by the knots learned throughout the year.
Each day at camp begins by getting the scouts out of their tents with the help of Armenian music blaring through the sound system, aptly named “Radio Banakoom,” or the rough translation, “Camp Radio.” The favorite on the sound waves is Tata, but the scouts do get an occasional dose of Harout, Armenchik and Andy.
After completing a daily exercise routine, they are ready to take on the day’s activities, which are plentiful thanks to Mataguay’s resourceful campground. There is a pool on site where scouts spend their free time, a shooting range, an archery field, a rock climbing wall, and a lake for canoeing.
For the first day of camp, the leaders put together a huge rally for the individual scout groups to compete in water polo, volleyball, dodgeball and a game similar to baseball played with the hand instead of a bat. The rally is one of the fun aspects of camp that builds camaraderie and sportsmanship.
Though camp is fun and games, it is also an opportunity for them to learn about various topics. Part of the daily schedule includes lectures on scout knowledge. It is a perfect opportunity to teach scouts how to tie knots and perform survival signaling. Other topics pertain to being Armenian and living in the Diaspora and include lectures about Armenian culture, music, art, dance and history, which included a history of homenetmen. A favorite is the topic on current events in Armenia and how youth can get involved in the Armenian community.
Sometimes, alumni scouts make the long drive to camp to give a lecture, using what they have achieved in order to teach a new generation of scouts. A big part of scouting has been to give back to the community, even if one is not an active member. The sense of belonging to the scout world always seems to linger with individuals long after they leave.
One of the traditions at camp is the initiation of newly promoted leaders by putting them through a “survival night.” This night has earned its name because of the procedure it entails: the scouts are woken up in the middle of the night and given directions on where to go and what to do in order to find another campground that has already been set up by senior leaders. After this, they must stand guard to protect their grounds; if they succeed, they have “survived” the night and won their challenge.
This year’s batch of leaders excelled in their survival night challenge as they found their campground, set up camp, and prevented an attack on their territory by the senior leaders that came to test them.
In fact, to develop this skill, all scouts young and old must stand guard. Each person will watch over the campground at least once in the week for a two-hour long shift. This is part of the traditional night games that scouts play. The game entails stealing each others flags during the night in order to test the guards. Most of the time, the stealing occurs between Homenetmen chapters, all of which is done in good humor and with advanced approval from the leaders in question.
Each year, the scouts look forward to the annual camp dance equipped with a disc jockey. However, this year, they were in for a special treat: a “blacklight” party had been planned and the scouts were told to wear white t-shirts. They were then given highlighters to draw on each other as the markings would show up as glow-in-the-dark writing. Needless to say, the party was a huge success with the scouts dancing away the night.
At the close of each day, the scouts hold a campfire. The tradition takes place at every camp, where everyone gets together to sing, chant, laugh and enjoy the skits put on by the different groups. This year’s campfires became more technologically advanced than in the past: throughout the week, pictures were taken of all the scouts during their activities, which were then made into a slideshow to be viewed each night. Another change from the previous years was that the scout songs had all been put into karaoke format on a large screen, which led to participation during the campfires skyrocketing.
What makes the annual camp so amazing is not just all its unique activities, or that it gives scouts a chance to challenge their own boundaries and broaden their horizons, but that the entire week is put together and planned by youth who are themselves scouts. That by itself speaks so much of how Homenetmen scouting fosters leadership skills and brings new individuals up to lead the ranks in future years. It is no wonder that this camp is often referred to as the best week of the scouting year.