Homenetmen (Հ.Մ.Ը.Մ.) London’s Scout activities culminate in an annual camp that takes place during the beginning of the summer holidays, and has done so for the past 33 years that the organisation has been continually active in London (except every 4 years when there is an international Jamboree). It’s a week during which the scouts can put into practice their scouting knowledge as well as gain new skills. It’s also a week of structured activities which aim to elevate the youth not just physically and mentally; but also heighten their levels of self-discipline, self-awareness, teamwork… the list can go on. Crucially though, it provides an environment independent of the outside world where they eat, sleep and play within Armenian confines: a significant element in Homenetmen’s, and a Diasporan-Armenian’s, active struggle to maintain identity. It is an occasion which occurs all too rarely and is greeted with nothing short of excitement.
The scouts arrived at the Paccar Scouts Campsite on a gloomy Tuesday morning in July, welcomed by a semi-erect campsite thanks to the 2-day preparation prior. The dim weather, however, wasn’t dampening anyone’s spirits as they went about pitching their tents and getting accustomed to their new home away from home. Suddenly the campsite buzzed with energy and purpose.
The week saw horrific downpours contrasted with spells of beautiful sunshine – a typical English summer – but plans, even the building of fires, prevailed despite the harsh elements.
The scout’s campfire, which takes place at the end of every day, is a show-like ceremony which holds its roots in the Native American customs. Subsequently a project, the likes of which was unprecedented at these camps, was put in place to show recognition to the people from which this integral part of the camps stems. It spanned the entire week and involved those of all ages and rank, encompassing various Native American traditions. These included making dreamcatchers and feather headdresses; building teepees and, most notably, carving 8-foot totem poles. Day-by-day the scouts got their hands stuck into these activities, learning the littlest of things without even realising. Just sharing the limited tools for example is a simple yet fundamental lesson, particularly for the younger ones.
“Radio Panagoum” (Ռադիօ Բանակում) provided musical delights throughout the week; as well as games, competitions and prizes. Greatly sought-after every year are the Radio Panagoum t-shirts which, this time, were personalised for the lucky few who managed to win one. Special Olympics updates were also beamed out.
Sunday the 5th, as has become the norm, was the visitor’s day: parents and all are invited to see the Armenian haven that their child has become a part of. The formal procession and flag ceremony took place, singing the national and Homenetmen anthems, followed by a speech from Homenetmen London’s Executive Committee (Վարչութիւն) and blessings from Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian. During the ceremony some scouts received certificates of exemplary attitude while others attained an increase in rank, the audience watching with pride all the while. Later came the campfire (խարոյկ) for the visitors, which was split into two parts. The first was the normal Armenian part where our songs were sung and our chants chanted. The second part, which was met with pleasant surprise, was Native American themed: the young ones danced in the traditional style, the older scouts performed a group drumming piece, and an age-old story was artfully told just before wrapping things up. Perhaps most memorable though was the unveiling of the totem poles as their sheer grandeur surely took many aback.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 7th, the week came to an end. It’s always a bittersweet time as the scouts are keen to go home to a comfortable bed and their parents’ arms, but simultaneously deeply wish they didn’t have to leave their friends and the setting. With reluctance the campsite was emptied. Emotions from the scouts highlighted their enjoyment during the past week – likewise can be said of the members of the leaders committee, but beyond that they also felt a great sense of satisfaction with their collective work which resulted in such a morale-boosting camp for the youths.
This year’s camp had an air of creativity about it which could well be partly responsible for the incredible atmosphere that was generated within the borders. Whatever the cause, memories were made through both thick and thin; lessons were learnt, bonds were created, skills were applied, happiness was shared and the final words in everyone’s mind were “can’t we just stay here?”
— Heros Jojaghaian