How Poland’s Scout Movement Is Tackling Climate Change
#lifestyle & opinion
default, 100th anniversary of the Scout Movement in Poznań, photo: Łukasz Cynalewski / Agencja Gazeta, center, harcerki-poznan-fot-lukasz-cynalewski-ag_cyn9516.jpg
Anna Nowosad, chief of Poland’s biggest scouting organisation ZHP, tells Culture.pl how climate change affects scouting in Poland and how the scouting movement raises climate change awareness among young people.
Marek Kępa: The Polish Scouting and Guiding Association or ZHP is the biggest scouting organisation in Poland, with over 100,000 members. What is it that draws young Poles to scouting?
Anna Nowosad: Adventure, the main thing that attracts girls and boys to scouting (not only in Poland) is the possibility of experiencing adventure. Also the possibility of doing something with others, together, the opportunity to prepare something, make a plan and then to put it into action. That’s what young people love about scouting.
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MK: What kind of adventures do you offer them?
AN: We propose very old-fashioned adventures like hiking, trekking, camping. In the summer we go to the woods or to the mountains and we camp. We usually take camping gear like tents, knives, cooking utensils. We also do some of our activities in cities. They can play an outdoor game or do community work. For instance in Warsaw, scouts try to find public places with offensive graffiti in order to remove it.
MK: It says on the ZHP website that ‘scouts love nature and try to get to know it’…
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AN: That’s one of our laws. Right now it’s even more important than 10 or maybe 15 years ago. Because right now we are much more aware of the climate crisis. We know it’s happening right now. And there is no scouting without nature.
MK: According to EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the past decade was the warmest on record. Do the high temperatures somehow affect ZHP’s functioning?
AN: They’ve started to affect our summer activities. It’s not very bad yet, but two years ago we had a big gathering, a big camp for our scouts in the Bieszczady Mountains and we used up all the water there. We reached a point when we opened the tap and there was no water in it.
AN: Yes, we had basic facilities so we had running water at the camp. And we literally used up all of it. So we had to make very strict rules about showering, washing dishes and so on. Nothing like this had ever happened before. We used to have bigger gatherings at the same campsite and we never had any problems with water.
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MK: Did you notice the same thing at other places or was it just that one camp?
AN: The exact same hasn’t occurred anywhere else but we see similar things happening. Scouts usually camp in the same spots again and again because it’s not that easy to get a new camping permit in Poland. And we see, for instance, that the local lake or stream used to be bigger. We see changes. Also, for the past three years, the risk of forest fires has been so high that in many places it was forbidden to light campfires. We can see the woods don’t look like they used to, and that makes it easier to explain to our scouts that something is happening to the climate. They can observe it, they can tell the difference.
MK: So they understand climate change is real because they see it with their own eyes…
AN: It’s not something they only hear about from their teachers or parents. They see it. And that’s the whole difference that scouting brings. We bring our youth to nature, we give them an opportunity to be among nature and to see for themselves what’s happening.
MK: Your website also says that apart from encouraging the youth to spend time in nature, ZHP also ‘fights against the destruction of nature by civilisation.’ How are the scouts doing this?
AN: First of all, we try to be sustainable as an organisation. We also teach our scouts and guides that everything they do affects the world around them. So if you go on a summer camp, you have to take into consideration not only the place where you’ll be camping and how you’ll be camping but also how you’ll get there – whether by train, bus or car (by the way, we don’t encourage the use of cars). We teach the scouts that when you go to the woods, you should bring back all the things you take there – not only waste but also everything else. Try to camp in a way that’s in no way harmful to the place you’re in.
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MK: Do the principles of fighting against the destruction of nature by civilisation also apply to life outside of the campsite, for instance, in the city?
AN: Yes, of course. When you’re a scout, you should behave like one all time, not just when camping. You should remember always not to waste water or leave waste in undesignated places . It’s as important during the summer as during any other part of the year, both in scouting and so to say in your private life.
MK: I wanted to ask you about Aleksander Kamiński, author of the 1943 book ‘Stones for the Rampart’ about the WWII resistance movement in Warsaw. I understand he was strongly involved with ZHP. How did he influence the organisation?
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AN: Tremendously. He was one of the creators of the method we use while working with very small kids – whom we call Zuchy, which translates into English as either ‘cub scouts’ or ‘brownies.’ These kids are six to ten years old. Kamiński’s main principle was that no matter how small a kid is they’re still a human being. He said there’s no difference between a child and an adult when it comes to judgement capacity or wanting to be able to decide for yourself. So, while working with kids you have to remember that it’s not up to you present everything on a plate, it’s up to them to create the things they are doing – you’re only there to help. You’re there to guide, to provide security. But the decisions are theirs to make.
Kamiński also believed that the best way to teach a young boy or girl something is to make them curious. And the simplest way to make them curious is to let them play, let them pretend that, for instance, they’re fire fighters, policemen, engineers, artists or musicians. Let them become actors in a way, let them try things. If they’re pretending that they’re musicians, we’ll provide them with instruments so that they can try play them, we’ll take them to meet a professional musician. We create opportunities for trying new things. And we still apply this method even though it’s almost a hundred years old, since it just works so well.
MK: Speaking of music, in the years 1957-1998, ZHP ran a popular radio station. It even hosted the first hit list in Poland. How did this station influence the Polish youth?
AN: It was very popular back in the day, playing music young people couldn’t hear on any other radio station. They were very modern. Not only in the sense that they brought new music to Polish audiences but also because they let their listeners decide – through the hit list – which songs were the best. Some of the DJs and journalists were amateurs, some were professionals, but even those who were amateurs eventually became professionals after working at the station for some time. We have tapes with recordings of the broadcasts, they’re at ZHP’s headquarters in Warsaw. Maybe someday we’ll digitalise them.
MK: ZHP also has a dedicated Museum of Scouting over in Warsaw, doesn’t it?
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AN: ZHP dates back to the year 1916 , and the museum has objects used by scouts before World War II. Some have a legendary status. For instance, banners. We had famous troupes in the Interwar period (a troupe is a group of twenty to thirty scouts) and you can see their banners at the museum. One belonged to the troupe that operated in the renowned Stefan Batory high school in Warsaw, whose members became involved with the Polish resistance during World War II. Members of that troupe took part in some of the most heroic actions of the resistance in Warsaw. Kamiński wrote the book you mentioned earlier, Stones for the Rampart, about three of them: Rudy, Zośka and Alek. So this banner is historic and – to us – legendary. If you’re into educating young people or the history of Poland, you’ll definitely find something for yourself at the museum.
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Festival of Kites on Sobieszewo Island in Gdańsk, photo: Renata Dąbrowska / Agencja Gazeta
MK: This summer the international scouting event European Jamboree is being held in Gdańsk. I understand this is another opportunity for education about the environment?
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AN: There will be over 17,000 young people from Europe and across the world coming to the city, so it’s definitely going to be this year’s biggest educational event for young people in Europe. They’ll be camping on the Sobieszewo island for ten days. Of course, you have huge music festivals all around Europe and they attract way larger crowds but this is something completely different. There will be sailing, canoeing, doing community service but also learning about climate change and Polish culture. But we won’t organise lectures. For example, learning about traditional dances will mean the scouts get an opportunity to actually dance them, practice them.
One of the themes of the European Jamboree is ‘act green’. This means we’re making this jamboree as sustainable as possible. We’ll do some obvious things like segregate our waste, but we’ll also organise programme activities about everyday issues connected to climate change. We’ll be discussing fresh-water problems, and teach how to save water. We’ll also talk about forests. One of the activities will address planting new forests, another will address taking care of forests in general. We’ll also discuss air pollution and smog-related issues. The European Jamboree will be a great occasion for young people from across the world to encounter Polish culture and to learn about what they can do about climate change.
Polish Scouting and Guiding Association
Stones For The Rampart
Interview conducted in English by Marek Kępa, 3 Feb 2020