Visitors at the international “Muskoka 2008” Grand Jamboree at Kotkajärve last week, especially at the two finale events, the suurlõke and the final parade – where all the key figures behind the success of the event were publicly thanked – could only have imagined the vast amount of work that went before. And in the distant past as well, for the jamboree also marked the 55th anniversary of this beautiful piece of Estonia abroad, a place that scout sub-camp leader nskm David Hogg calls “God’s country”.
Guiding and scouting are still vital in the Estonian community in Canada and the USA. Alas, this is not the case in Sweden anymore, home to many Estonians. On a more positive side, Estonian youth leaders back home have done much to make these movements, key to educating our youth and instilling values that are on the verge of disappearing in North America, successful and energetic in Eesti. This was proven time and time again during the jamboree - spontaneous cheers after presentation of skits and songs at the campfires being but one example. The American Estonian youth also brought spark and enthusiasm to KJ while rekindling friendships formed at the last suurlaager “Võluja”, in Lakewood, New Jersey.
One older (80+) local scouter marked at the final campfire with understandable regret and some dismay that North American guides and scouts have lost that ability, thanks to a great degree to a decline in language skills. Impromptu reactions used to be the norm among the first generation of Estonian youth born in Canada – but their offspring today lack the language skills insisted upon by their grandparents. Evidence of this demographic reality was readily heard at Kotkajärve, many cubs and brownies spoke English, even though the camp’s official language was Estonian. To be fair, the challenges faced include so-called mixed marriages where only one parent is of Estonian heritage as well as the lack of Estonian language schooling in smaller North American centers must be noted.
Among other positives was the fact that the youngest staff in jamboree history led “Muskoka 2008”. Although of the 245 registered participants some 100 (!) were leaders, the programme was carried out by the younger generation. Tiina Kai Paluoja, the jamboree’s “Chief” is under 30 years of age; her second-in-command was Veiko Parming, who showed admirable talents leading the campfires and emceeing the final parade. Veiko is even younger, still in university.
Perhaps the most important achievement was in the ability to harness the talents of the scouting/guiding community. Some Estonian Canadian parents have found it curious that the Ontario government some time ago mandated the requirement of volunteer hours as a pre-requisite for graduation from high school. Volunteers built our community here. Lending a willing and helping hand is a principle central to scouting and guiding. Ironically, leaders of brownies or cubs, scouts, guides, can apply that time that they would have given anyways towards their required 40 hours of volunteer time. Many such have already accumulated those hours by Grade 11.
Just as you can lead a horse to water, but not make it drink, enforced volunteerism seems to miss the point. And curiously, some parents of today’s youth, busy as they all are – and stretched to choose between where to contribute in the community – are not all as eager to help out as are their guiding light offspring. An example can be provided by looking at the Jõekääru summer camp case, where parents for decades participated in the talgud voluntarily. Declining volunteer attendance forced camp leadership there to impose a financial surcharge for the families whose children attended the camp but whose parents did not take part in the work bees. Thankfully those adults remain in a minority.
Scout and guide leaders might consider the same at Kotkajärve, even though that is contrary to the principles of the movement. The four publicly declared talgu weekends were attended by mostly the same people, with declining attendance as the jamboree neared. It would not be asking too much for parents of our youth to contribute with but a day, would it? Let us remember that those who founded Kotkajärve 55 years ago had a longer drive up there, perhaps greater demands on their time at home as recent immigrants struggling to establish themselves in Canada, as well as other community responsibilities – all of great importance in establishing our roots and maintaining Estonian culture in exile.
To all those who made “Muskoka 2008” an unforgettable experience for our youngest generation, bravo, and a public thanks. The energetic Estonian contingent at Kotkajärve set an example time after time with this cheer: “rigadi, rägadi, risti-rästi, seda tegid nemad hästi!”
Guiding the spirit of scouting (4)