By Suzanne Wilson
The Shawnee Trails Council and the Owensboro, Ky., Sister Cities program host camp staff from the Czech Republic through the BSA's International Camp Staff Program.
Kentucky Lake was fairly calm on a July morning as a boatload of Scouts headed out for their waterskiing session at Camp Roy C. Manchester.
Tyson Wheeler, 16, of Troop 628, St. Charles, Mo., was first to take the towrope. Pulled along behind the speeding boat, he crossed and jumped its wake, well on the way to earning his merit badge.
"This group is really good," observed instructor Hana Pavlu, 23. "They all got up on the skis on the first day."
That same morning, motorboating instructor Eva Konárová, 18, watched a Scout's performance in her class as he piloted the boat away from the dock and across the lake.
It's not unusual for young women to serve as counselors at a Boy Scout camp, but aside from their gender, Hana and Eva have something else in common: Both are from the city of Olomouc (pronounced Olomotz) in the Czech Republic.
The two Czech Scouters were among the 88 Scouters from 29 countries to serve on summer camp staffs in 2003 through the BSA's International Camp Staff Program.
They came from countries as diverse as Bolivia, Finland, Kenya, Republic of China, Togo, and Turkey. Six worked at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico; the others, like Hana and Eva, served on staff at local council summer camps.
The program benefits both campers and international Scout visitors. Scouts get to meet staff members from different countries and cultures and learn about their Scouting programs; the visiting counselors experience the United States, U.S. Scouting, and gain new friends. And many improve their English language skills in the process.
A Natural Match
International Scouters have been a regular part of the Shawnee Trails Council's summer camp program for several years. In recent summers, Camp Roy C. Manchester has hosted staff from Ecuador, England, and Denmark.
Hana and Eva, however, represented something special: Since 1994, their hometown of Olomouc has been the sister city of Owensboro, Ky., headquarters of the Shawnee Trails Council.
That relationship, developed through Sister Cities International, has led to Scout exchanges with Czech Scouts attending the camp in 2000 and Shawnee Trails Scouts visiting the Czech Republic in 2002. And this coming summer, Czech Scouts will return to Camp Manchester.
Meanwhile, the International Camp Staff Program touches all Scouts who come to Camp Manchester.
The program lets Scouts know there are Scouts all around the world and that Scouting varies in other countries, said Bill West, the Shawnee Trails Council's international representative.
"They learn that not everyone has to do everything exactly the same way to meet the goals of Scouting," he explained, "while understanding that we're all still tied together with the same general principles laid down by Lord Baden-Powell."
While most applicants to the International Camp Staff program are matched to councils by the BSA's International Division, some councils find applicants by using connections they've made through world jamborees or sister city programs. West, who is also executive director of Owensboro Sister Cities International, worked with Jan Pecínka, district Scoutmaster in the Olomouc area, to find Hana Pavlu and Eva Konárová.
Where Is It?
Every day at camp, as they worked and relaxed, Hana and Eva were great sources for stories about their country and their Scouting adventures. Often, a geography lesson was included.
"While some think the Czech Republic is part of Russia," said Hana, "most everyone thinks [the country is still] Czechoslovakia." (That country became two, Czech Republic and Slovakia, in 1993.) She offered an easy way to locate her homeland: "You know where Europe is. Find the middle. That's it."
Hana, a university student studying primary teaching and English, was a Cub Scout leader at home. Eva, with one more year of high school ahead (the thirteenth year of school there), held a position in her Scout troop similar to patrol leader. For both, it was their first visit to the United States.
Eva had heard American kids were spoiled, and Hana had concerns, too.
"When I came here, I thought the kids won't be nice to us," she confessed. "They'll be very naughty, and we won't know how to talk with them. But they talk to us very nice; they're perfect."
The admiration was mutual, whether Scouts spent time with the Czechs in classes or sought them out at break times.
Thomas Ortiz, 12, Troop 628, St. Charles, Mo., said of Hana, "She's nice to everyone. She speaks Czech to her buddy real fast, and we're like, "What?'"
"Having an instructor from another country is pretty cool, and I never really knew anyone from the Czech Republic," admitted Drew King, 14, Troop 516, Lawrenceville, Ga., after participating in Eva's motorboating class. "She's a good teacher, and her class was fun."
On The Waterfront
Although Hana and Eva had previous aquatics experience, including swimming, lifesaving, and canoeing, they received pre-camp training for coaching their sports. In fact, Hana's first time on water skis was during staff weekand she was the only staff member to successfully ski on her first try.
"It's been great having them here," said camp director Matt Roberts. "They're more proficient in English than I thought they would be, and it's easy to communicate with them. And they've been great at the waterfront."
To campers' questions about Scouting in the Czech Republic, Eva explained that Czech Scouts go to summer camp for three weeks, where they are able to complete only two merit badges. One reason for this, she pointed out, is that Czech Scouting merit badges have more requirements than BSA merit badges.
Czech camping is more rustic, she noted, because the camps have no permanent facilities and no electricity. Scouts cook over fires, but even then, "Czech food is better," she said, smiling.
Hana recalled one of her troop's unusual adventures. "Once we had breakfast in a tree, 50 people up in one huge tree." Two people climbed around, serving bowls of cornflakes and milk. "It took a long time, but it was fun."
American Scouts were fascinated with the complex sounds of the Czech language and attempted to learn words and phrases. One determined staff member borrowed Hana's Czech-English dictionary and tried to have a conversation with her in Czech, looking up one word at a time.
Meanwhile, Eva found her English improving during the camping season. "At first, I was always saying: "What? One more time, please.' Now, I understand more."
They missed home, of course, especially "the food and my parents and friends," said Hana. They confessed that any mention of their favorite Czech sweet dumplings would start their mouths watering.
But Scouts and Scouters entertained them, inviting them to a troop campsite for cake and to a barbecue party outside the camp. At the camp ranger's house, where they'd stayed before staff week, they could check their e-mail and write home. They took "plenty of e-mail addresses" of staff friends home with them.
Near the end of their stay, Eva said she was going to miss her American friends "and the lake." She asked camp friends to write "messages of memory" in her notebook.
Hana wrote in her diary every day and asked friends to write in it, too. After camp closed, they toured their Sister City of Owensboro, hosted by a Scout family and Bill West.
There's no doubt they'll have memories of their stay here, and they'll be remembered by many of the young campers they worked with.
"It's a totally new experience dealing with someone from another culture," said Dava McCann, aquatics director, "but it's neat to see how the two [cultures] can come together and understand each other."
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo.
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