Some Scout troops can boast one or two Scouts born in other states. But ask a Scout in Aurora, CO, Troop 1532 where he’s from, and he’ll tell you Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Somalia, Nepal, Rwanda, or Democratic Republic of the Congo. If you’re lucky, he’ll tell you in English.
“My favorite times are when the Scouts from different backgrounds are all making fun of me at the same time, with words they have all taught each other, but haven’t taught me,” troop leader Dr. P.J. Parmar explained. “I can usually tell by their tone and laughing, but it is usually some variation of calling me lazy.”
Teasing from the troop aside, the doctor turned troop leader is far from lazy.
Parmar’s father enrolled him in Scouting when he was 12. He earned Eagle Scout and spent several summers working at Philmont Scout Ranch. His passion for the outdoors was soon met with a desire to serve men and women who fled hard times in other countries.
Cue Parmar becoming Dr. Parmar, a family medical practitioner who works solely with refugees. He even manages a building full of organizations that serve refugees.
“There are many young men in my practice and in the various activities in the building. With my background in Scouting, starting a troop was a logical step to serve those youth,” Parmar said.
Enter the rambunctious Scouts who, despite coming from challenging backgrounds, relish the freedom of boyhood in the U.S., even rousing their leader when they have the chance (sounds like typical Scouts).
Bridging the Culture Gap
When it comes to programs that can immediately assimilate immigrants and refugees into
American culture, there are few still in existence as iconic as the khaki-clad Boy Scouts.
With emphasis on duty to country and proactive citizenship, Scouting in the U.S. offers children (from here or abroad) a chance to understand and grow into the caliber of adult who strengthens the country.
However, Parmar pointed out a less obvious benefit of Scouting for his refugee troop.
“Our outings provide a safe, accepting place for these kids to be themselves, in fun settings, without having to worry about negativity from other kids based on ethnic background,” Parmar explained. “Even when we interface with other troops, at summer camp or camporees, Scouting is indeed a safe space for diversity of all kinds.”
Speaking of summer camp, that’s where the never-before-experienced activities abound for Scouts who are new to U.S. culture. To them, campouts, horseback rides, swimming pools, even raising the flag can be novel (and sometimes scary at first).
And while the new experiences are in no short supply, neither are the challenges.
“Our boys have parents who don’t speak English, maybe work nights or don’t drive, or can’t afford the time or money for outings and supplies,” Parmar said.
Fundraising for troop activities proves difficult too. Even staples of Scouting fundraising like popcorn sales are hurdles for a refugee troop.
“Our kids can’t sell popcorn to their neighbors because their neighbors can’t afford popcorn and maybe don’t have a taste for it,” Parmar explained.
Thanks to volunteers and the collaboration of the Scouting community, these obstacles are being overcome, ensuring the boys an opportunity to thrive in the BSA’s life-changing youth programs.
“We are slowly building a group of dedicated adult volunteers who enjoy taking care of young men who aren’t their own sons,” Parmar said. “We have received assistance from the Denver Area Council for registrations, uniforms, and summer camp.”
But not to be overlooked is the tremendous dedication of troop founder Parmar. His commitment to helping Scouts from all backgrounds achieve what was incomprehensible in their native countries typifies the spirt of an Eagle Scout. Now his mentorship may inspire a new flock.
Looking forward, Parmar hopes Scouting continues to serve youth from all over the world, adding, “I think over time Scouting can keep finding strategies to find even more ways to work with those from diverse backgrounds.”