Friday, September 2, 2011

The 40th annual Scout Camporee 2011

It's camping time again - The Sri Lanka Scout Association, Colombo District branch will hold its 40th annual Scout Camporee from 2011 September 2 - 4 at the Vihara Maha Devi Park Colombo 7.

What is a Camporee? Quoting from the Scout Association newsletter, “It is an annual camp, where thousands of Scouts in Colombo, camp together”. “Beyond the façade lie a world of adventure, friendships, excitement, and a multitude of learning experiences.

The first experimental Camporee was organized by Captain Vernon Halpe and Mr. Raymond at the Royal Primary Grounds in 1949, with just a few hundred Scouts. It has since grown to mammoth proportions giving the Scouts of Colombo a great experience.

For those of us old hands Camporee time, rekindles the pleasant memories of bygone era. Of Camp Fires, Camp cooking, old friendships and so many adventures, that we had as little children. 

For the present generation of Scouts, it is just unadulterated fun, enjoyment, and excitement. As I write this essay, thousands of children from Colombo would be counting the days to join this great event.

Getting their kit ready, having a few extra batteries for the torch, marking their name on all things to be taken to camp, hiding a few slabs of chocolates or a packet of biscuits deep in the kit bag (to be shared later by the members of the Patrol) would be going on.

This excitement of one little boy would soon pervade the whole household. The father, the mother, the grandfather, the grandmother, and all brothers and sisters (may or may not be fortunate enough to be Scouts or Guides). For any Scout in Colombo, the Camporee is synonymous with Scouting in Colombo, for, who is the Scout who has not taken part in a Camporee, and still calls himself a Scout? If so, it has to be due to some great misfortune.


There are many veterans of these Camporees .They are vintage camporites who had been involved in Camporees for decades. I may not be able to name them all. Some are dead and gone, leaving behind many traditions for the following generations to carry on.

The names of Maz. Mohideen,Lesley Sumanasekera, Felix Ranasinghe, R. Sri Krishnaraja. P.S.R. Rajamani are some officers who had made outstanding contributions in ideas and efforts to make Camporee a more enjoyable, and a very educative event. They are no more. Of those who are still with us today, H.S.Weerakoon, C.Batuwangala, M.S.F.Muheed, Boyd Rodrigo, Daniel Edirisinghe, Shiraz Salih, Newton Cooray, W. Pathmasiri, Janaprith Fernando, Riza Azoor, Nanda Fernando, Rohan Fernando, comes easily to my mind. But there were many others, and also thousands who worked silently behind the scenes. But more than all of them, it was the individual Scout Leader who was always the backbone of any Camporee. They are the real heroes of the Camporee. They will always be remembered with gratitude by their Scouts, long after the Hq. has forgotten them. But this year, the Camporee is a little special.

The father of the Organising Commissioner Firaz Muheed, too was an Organising Commissioner for a Camporee many years ago. So we do have here a father and the son combination! I cannot think of another situation where the father and the son both being Camporee organising Commissioners! It was, M.F.S. Muheed who organised a Camporee in 1991, 20 years ago, who is the father of the present Organising Commission. Of all the Scout Leaders I do clearly remember one person, who, year after year brings her band of little children to take part in the Camporee. Yes, it is a she. Rev. Sr. Jane Margaret of the St.Michael's Scout Group Kollupitiya. With all difficulties, and all her other work, she will make sure that her little band of Scouts, though may not be the most affluent in Colombo, stands on equal terms with all other Scouts in Colombo. Despite the advancing age she is still full of youthful enthusiasm.

She is generous and kind to a fault and anybody is welcomed to her camp site with a cheerful smile and a warm cup of tea. My Scouts from Royal College regularly go to her to do badges, for she is a badge examiner too! There are still a few others of that disposition. Erwin Waidyachandra fighting an uphill battle running the Rotary Scout Group is another. Although he rarely smiles (he has enough private troubles to remember each time he forgets to frown!)He is struggling hard to give Scouting to the under privileged children in Manning town, Narahenpita.

It is a pity that not much people are there to help Erwin. Luckily the Rotary Club does help his Scout Group to a great extent. There are many other Scout Leaders too innumerable to mention who are sacrificing their time and money for the sake of the children of this little land of ours. Unseen and unsung, they do a marvellous job behind the scenes. They are fast becoming a rare breed.


But what is a Camporee? It is an annual camp, where thousands of Scouts in Colombo, camp together for the duration of the Camporee. But beyond the facade of that sentence lie a world of adventure, friendships, excitement and a multitude of learning experiences.

The first experimental Camporee was organised by Captain Vernon Halpe (Who was a teacher at Royal Primary School at that time) and Raymond ,at the Royal Primary Grounds in 1949, with just a few hundred Scouts. 

It has since grown to mammoth proportions giving the Scouts of Colombo an experience which one Scout from Colombo described as "our own Disney Land". It has thus captivated the imagination of the children of Colombo year after year, generation after generation.

In many ways the Camporee augments the training of "good citizenship" done by the Scout Leaders at the normal weekly Scout meetings.

Planning; managing; leadership; teamwork; improvisation; determination; ability to accept victory or defeat in the correct spirit; are some of the practical learning experiences that a boy will get at a Camporee. You could also see children of Moor, Sinhala, Tamil, Malay and Burgher origins happily working and playing together, irrespective of caste, creed, race, or any other discrimination. Like the three famous Musketeers "One for all and all for one".

Hundreds of adults, male as well as female, sacrifice their money, time, energy and their skills to make this annual event a memorable experience for the children - the citizens of tomorrow. Though innumerable to mention, the services rendered by many generations of these ladies and gentlemen had been immense. The smoky old 'wood-fire' kitchens have given way to gas cookers (not only to protect the turf of the Viharamahadevi park, but also as a modern convenience).

The old Hurricane lanterns have given way to electric lights and torches. The heavy canvas tents have given way to colourful polymer tents.

Many generations of Scouts have given way to new and a younger generations of Scouts. But yet, the excitement, the joy, and the adventures of the Camporee remain. Whether it was little Shamil Mendis the Patrol Leader of the Elephant Patrol (now a Director at Delmage), trying to light the kitchen fire, or little Devinda Kalupahana the Patrol Leader of the Lion Patrol putting up a memorable watch tower (he retired as Major General in the army), or little Prathapa Abeywickrema the famous Patrol Leader of the Foxes (a sub lieutenant in the Navy reported missing in action after a naval battle in the north sea) doing one of his notorious camp fire stunts, or little Charitha Ratwatte (Patrol Leader of the Wolves (who is now a Director of a company) racking his little head on how to keep his Patrol in control, or little Yuvin Amaradasa who still struggles to write his log book; They all have one thing in common. A dream and a vision common to thousands of children in Colombo; The Camporee!


Some of the old hands might feel that the old romance of the Camporees, with just a few lights, kitchens full of smoke, and little children blowing at the kitchen fire until tears come to their eyes, were the real thing. Yes, at times some of us do let the years roll away and take a walk down memory lane and dream of the Camporees of a bygone era. They were great Camporees , organised by great Organising Commissioners. I too once in a while dream of the Camporees of my young days. But I do remember two very special Camporees.

They were organised and run by Scout of 16 -17 years age. Camporees by the youth for the youth. In my opinion they were two of the best Camporees.

I do feel a little sorry, that for some reason, a very good reason no doubt, the adults have taken over again. Since 2005 or so, the Camporees were once again organized by the Adult Commissioners who of course had much more experience than the youth, in organising events.

My Camporee experiences go back to 1972, when R. Bodhinagoda (who later became the Chairman of the ANCL) as our District Commissioner.

M.K.J. Cantlay had retired in 1969 and our Scout Leader then was K.C. Uduman, who was then an A/L student at Royal College(now a very senior official at the Hong Kong Bank somewhere in a foreign country, far away). Those ancient smoky wood-fire kitchens, and the old Hurricane lanterns and the Petromaxes did give out a special mysterious and a romantic atmosphere. And we learnt.

We learned to cook (though the meals were eternally late, quite often only half cooked, and rice always full of stones), we learned to work as team, we learned leadership qualities, we learned the importance of planning, we learned the importance of respecting the views of others (though we may disagree!) and many more things. "We learnt of books and learnt of men, and learnt to play the game. "We never had everything that we wanted. Hence improvisation was the order of the day. That forced us to tap our limited brain capacity to the maximum.

But didn't we enjoy it all? Yes, we did. I do feel sorry for the children who miss the Camporee for one reason or the other.

They miss a thrill of a life time. As late Ralf Reader, in England wrote in his famous 'Gang' song many years ago.

"...Get out and come in boys we're waiting for you,

And you'll be delighted you came.

To enjoy the joys of the Scouting boys it's a great, great game.

A thrill of a lifetime is waiting for you..."

And once again, on 1st September 2011, the Scouts in their thousands would come to the Viharamahadevi park for the 48th Camporee of the series. The opening ceremony would be held at the open air theatre at the park at 4.30 p.m. on the 2nd September, and H.E the High Commissioner for Australia is expected to be the Chief Guest.


The 2nd the 3rd and the 4th September would be full of activities for the Scouts. As the morning inspections would be held until about 9.30 a.m. ,the general public would not be allowed to come in until that time. On the 3rd, the Cub Scouts would be coming. The lads though would miss the Girl Guides this time, possibly due to some internal politics which has nothing to do with the children. A separate program has been designed for the Cub Scouts.

But I am sure that there are no restrictions to the Girl Guides visiting the Camporee in their private capacity.

Should you want to know what the Scouts do, should you want to show your little ones what the Scouts do, should you want to go back to the days when you were a little kid and doing Scouting, then, do come and see the Scouts in action on the 3rd and on the 4th of September at the Viharamahadevi Park. We are most grateful to Authorities of the Colombo Municipal Council and the Defence Secretary, who is keenly interested on the welfare of the children of Colombo and had once again allowed the Scouts to use the park from the 1st to the 5th of September. Yet another generation of children would go through this wonderful experience, and many, many years later, would still dream of the days spent at the Camporee, and would call them "The Good Old Days".

The writer is a former District Commissioner of Colombo, and at present a Scout Leader of Royal College and The National Program Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Scout Association

by Rohan WIRASEKARA- Former District Commissioner Colombo


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