Young Asian refugees bond with Scouting Troop 1262
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For many refugees from Burma, adjusting to the urban, fast-paced environment of the Salt Lake Valley can prove a challenge. But the refugees' rural, mountain-loving upbringing can make them first-rate Boy Scouts.
Scout Troop 1262 is sponsored by the Columbus Branch of the South Salt Lake Stake and includes more than four dozen Scouts. It's perhaps unlike any troop in Scouting with a remarkable backstory of service, faith and fellowship.
In 2008 refugees from Burma (also known as Myanmar) began immigrating into the Salt Lake Valley. They were usually placed in low-cost apartments. For most, the view from their windows was framed by blacktop and concrete. This was a major adjustment for the teenage boys who were used to traversing the hills near their refugee camps in search of food (mainly small animals and birds).
The boys had a love of the outdoors and loved to roam free. Growing accustomed to the fast-paced U.S. culture — and being confined to small areas — was overwhelming for some. Also, these boys had grown up surrounded by war and violence. Some exhibited hostile tendencies. Sitting in a school classroom day after day often proved difficult. They were able to understand little of what was said in English — and they felt a great deal of sociological pressure to escape into any kind of a comfort zone that would give them some acceptance and purpose.
Unfortunately, many refugee boys found such acceptance in the form of gangs and other undesirable activities.
With the encouragement of missionaries and neighbors who were members of the Church, many of the Burmese refugee families began attending Church services. Many of them were baptized and became active in the Church. However, some of the young men struggled with the three-hour meeting block. A few of the boys started getting into trouble and found themselves in the juvenile court system.
Welcome Hand, a humanitarian organization for refugees, sponsored Scout Troop 1262 in 2009. The boys immediately connected with the Scouting program.
"Scouting is a natural for them," said Bob Roylance, 73, the troop Scoutmaster. "They come from the mountains and love to be outdoors." Fourteen boys attended the first Scout camp in 2009, 24 attended the Evergreen summer camp in 2010, and 41 young men attended the Bear Lake Aquatics Camp in 2011. During one summer camp the boys were presented the Tomahawk Award for being the top troop in the camp. They received a standing ovation from the boys in the other troops.
Many of these boys began joining the Church along with their families and many attended Church in their local wards. Approximately 300 Burmese refugees in the Salt Lake Valley have joined the Church over the past four years. The Church and the Scouting program have offered many of the refugees a positive outlet to find friendship and wholesome outdoor activities. It's believed that gang activity in the South Salt Lake area has declined since the formation of Troop 1262.
Three years ago the Columbus Branch was created for Burmese members under the South Salt Lake Stake. The Boy Scout troop was a catalyst toward the formation of the branch. More than 25 of the young men have been baptized and are serving in the Aaronic priesthood. Last month, 12 of the young men gave sacrament meeting talks and shared their testimonies. Such moments were special highlights for the branch and troop. It's expected that a number of the refugee young men will serve full-time missions and return to provide quality leadership for their people.
Brother Roylance said Scouting has proven "absolutely critical" in helping the young men make the ongoing transition into full Church activity. He and his assistants look for opportunities to use Scouting activities to teach key gospel principles. "Sometimes I'll go over the Scout Law and talk about how it applies to the gospel."
More than 50 boys are registered in the troop, with more expected to soon join. Eleven Scouts have achieved the Life rank and are working on their Eagle award. Troop 1262 has brought happiness to not only the Scouts, but also to their families.