“If I can only decide one thing for my children, then I would like them to be able to remain active in Scouting”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.34.21 AM

Scouts and Guides contributing to refugee support activities in their local communities in Europe (44): a story from Ullerslev in Denmark, first published in the Danish daily Politiken.

No need to know Danish to understand the “peppermint game”: is came: pass a small peppermint sweet from a dry spaghetti you hold in your mouth to another one held by your friend; without the help of your hands of course! But the task is not easy at all: Raman and Ibrahim, 8 and 10 years old, make efforts to get their spaghettis to meet in the hole of the small peppermint sweet and move their heads so that the sweet slides from one spaghetti to the other without falling down.

The “peppermint game” is the first of the day’s activities in the Scout hut in Ullerslev, near Nyborg on Funen. Raman and Ibrahim and their older brother Yousif (who is 12 years old), joined eight Danish children for an afternoon of Scouting in the local Scout Group, where their father, Abas Sabbagh, helps as a volunteer Scout leader. Abas’ wife, Moatha, and the couple’s youngest daughter Lin (two years) watch the activities.

Last autumn, the Sabbagh family left the atrocities of war in their home country Syria and sought refuge in Denmark. From December, Abas and his three sons have been active in the Danish Scout Association. They are one of the approximately 100 families, which so far have received help from the funds collected by the Danish daily Politiken and The Oak Foundation. Some DKK 9,7 million (more than EUR 1.3 million) had been collected to ensure that refugee children can participate in recreation activities in Denmark. Vouchers received via the Danish Refugee Council allowed Abas to buy the Scout uniforms and pay for the membership fees for his three sons.

“I came to Denmark last year”, explains Abas Sabbagh, “while my family remained in Damascus, where I had owned a clothing store and my wife taught mathematics in high school.” Soon after having settled in Denmark, his new home country, Abas started volunteering in the local Scout Group, on the recommendation of the Danish Refugee Council.

With his sons, Abas speaks Arabic, but every now and then he uses the word “Spejder”, which is Danish for “Scouting”. This is because Abas did not know the Scout Movement back in Syria and he had not been attracted to outdoor life, camping and open fire either. But Scouting in Ullerslev and the volunteering in the local Scout Group turned out to be a unique approach to the Danish community and way of life for Abas.

“For me”, says Abas, “integration means that one must learn to understand the Danish way of thinking and living and to know what Danes like and dislike. This I learned here at the Scout Group. It is also important that you learn the local culture and customs and quickly master the language”.

He likes Scouting because it emphasises nature, humanism and cooperation. Therefore, he did not hesitate to bring his three sons to the Scout Group, too, shortly after the family had been reunited October. Raman, Ibrahim and Yousif seem to like it, although some of the games can be a little complicated and because they do not yet speak a lot of Danish.

From watching them playing and interacting with the local Scouts, it becomes quickly apparent that the three boys do understand a little Danish, as they – before their father manages to translate into Arabic – respond with a loud ‘yes’ to the question whether they are happy to be Scouts.

For the three Sabbagh boys membership in the local Scout Group means that they meet local children of their own age and learn to interact among Danes. Abas and Moatha, their parents, are convinced that the Scout Group will be very beneficial as it will help in terms of integration and of feeling at home in their new home country.

“It is not just the games, of course”, says Abas, “The children also experience being together in a great community, cooking and eating together, for example”.

In fact, for Raman, Ibrahim and Yousif, being in the Scout Group is not about integration. It is about experiencing a useful activity. This motive is not different from that of local Danish boys and girls joining the Scout Group.

“Mut’ah”, replies Raman immediately, when asked what was the best thing in Scouting. It is the word for “fun” in Arabic. “You can make new friends”, adds his older brother Yousif.

For the Sabbagh family, the involvement in Scouting and the local Scout Group has become such an integral part of their lives in Ullerslev that Abas is convinced that the family will certainly continue being active in Scouting, even when they will be more firmly integrated in Denmark.

“The solidarity and community spirit here is so good for my family,” explains Abas, “If I can only decide one thing for my children, then I would like them to be able to remain active in Scouting.”

Original text: Laura Byager Rabøl, Politiken
Picture: Politiken 2016