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January 13, 2010

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Shanghai boy scouts learn survival, leadership and independence

DESPITE living in a sprawling metropolis, Shanghai's boy scouts are able to break out of the urban jungle and enjoy the great outdoors.

Shanghai has more than 60 scouts in Troop 969 and they hold weekly meetings, support charity activities and go camping once a month.

More than 14 fathers act as volunteers, helping the boys learn a variety of skills from the traditional scouting skills such as knot-tying, basic survival and first aid to the fundamentals of managing money and personal finances.

Troop 969's Scout Master Tom Price says the troop has grown from just 15 members in 2002 and was so popular last year that registration had to be limited to ensure a safe ratio of boys to adult supervisors.

Boys between the ages of 11 and 18 can join the scouts, which is supported by the Shanghai International Community School, Pudong campus and Dulwich College International School in Jinqiao where they hold weekly meetings.

The scouts are mostly expat kids from a range of countries, including America, Australia, Brazil, Germany, France and the UK.

"Scouting is character-building and boy scouts are from age 11 to 18 so that is a vital time," Price says. "We are trying to teach them leadership skills and how to take care of themselves."

The activities in this troop are boy-led, unlike other troops that are led by scout masters. The boys elect and appoint their own leadership and decide their activities.

Every Wednesday the troop meets for an hour and a half and once a month the leadership team meets to plan charity and camping activities.

The scouts have camped in Binhai Forest Park in Nanhui area, Chongming Island, the grounds of the Shanghai Film Studio and spots around Shanghai. They have also gone to Beijing and camped at the Great Wall.

In the past year three scouts achieved the highest level of Eagle Scout. The three are Concordia International School students Garvin Price, Austin Brown and Nick Jurgens. Eagle status usually takes two to four years to complete and only about 3 percent of scouts worldwide achieve it.

Price, 15, is in the 10th grade and as part of his community service component for Eagle rank he made school yearbooks for sixth-grade children of migrant workers. He planned and organized every aspect of the yearbooks and paid for them by raising more than 6,300 yuan (US$923). His art class helped design the books.

To attain Eagle status, scouts must obtain 21 merit badges covering everything from personal fitness and nutrition to typical outdoors skills.

Brown organized the repainting of a senior citizens' center and Jurgens started a library in a school for migrants' kids.

"It was a normal school day for the students but when we came with the yearbooks, their faces just lit up," Price says.

"From their smiles and the look on their faces, you knew they had never seen anything like this. It was one of the greatest feelings I have had and it was great to see the reactions to something we created."

Price says he likes scouting because it's a break from regular school activities and he learns different skills than he would at school.

He calls the camping trip to the Great Wall "phenomenal" and "awesome."

In addition to camping, hiking and backpacking, the scouts have gone scuba diving, rock climbing, swimming and orienteering - finding their way around unfamiliar terrain with a compass and map.

The scout troop is currently taking registration of new scouts. To maintain a safe ratio of boys to adult supervisors, each registered boy must have one adult who is prepared to register as a volunteer.

Adult volunteers fill many roles, from helping out with organization to providing training in specific skills.

Scouts and adult volunteers must be foreign passport holders.

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