Abdullah Ali Obaid: “The scouts movement is doomed if political influence permeates its activities.” [Archives:1998/50/Interview]

December 14 1998

One of the grassroots activities that witnessed enormous growth in Yemen in the recent past has been the boy scouts and girl scouts movements. Strongly supported by the public and government alike, the young boys and girls have expanded in their outreach considerably.
Mr. Abdullah Ali Obaid is the Commissioner General of the Boy Scouts Association in Yemen. He is also the director of the Project to Integrate Population Activity in the Youth Sector of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Mr. Obaid has a degree in law and Islamic Sharia and diploma in youth and sports activity, He successfully attended a number of courses on aspects of the scouts and youth movements around the world.
Obaid is responsible for running scouts activity all over the country, though the Minister of Youth and Sport is chairman of the BSA.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor, talked to him and filed the following interview.
Q: Could you give a brief background on scouts movement in Yemen?
A: The actual Boy Scouts and Association was established according to a law issued in 1974. However, the movement dates back to 1922 when it was introduced into Aden by the late Mohammed Fare’. Its activities then spread to all parts of southern Yemen.
In 1954, the scouts movement was introduced to a school in Turba, Taiz. But it was later closed by orders from the Imam. It was allowed to re-emerge only after the 26th of September Revolution.
Q: What happened to the movement after the nation’s re-unification in 1990?
A: The movement had flourished in northern Yemen, but had slumbered in the south. So, immediately after re-unification, we worked to revive it in the south. We have been quite successful in that regard. There is now an appreciable scouts movement in Aden, Lahaj, and Hadhramaut. It is gradually increasing in Abyan and other governorates, as well.
Before unification the ruling Yemen Socialist Party in the south founded an alternative effort, more politicized youth organization.
Q: What are the numbers and ages of the boy scouts in Yemen?
A: There are about 35,000 young boys registered in the Boy Scouts Association. Their ages vary enormously, but they are all within the ages of 6 and 24 years. In addition, there are about 16,000 girl scouts. The Girl Guides Commissioner in Ms. Fatin Hamoud Issa.
Q: What kind of training or activities do you engage in?
A: Boy scouts go through four stages: Cubs, Scouts, Senior Scouts, and Rangers. Girls, on the other hand, start as Roses then go on to blossom as Guides, Senior Guides and Rangers.
We engage in many activities related to personality development and skill-acquiring, mostly in the field. We also participate in many public activities such as city-cleaning, assisting in traffic movement, charity activities.
For example, as the Yemen Times comes out this week, many drivers could see our boy scouts volunteers assisting in the Traffic Week effort in order to bring sense to vehicle circulation.
Q: How is this movement viewed by Yemeni society?
A: The credibility of the movement had been hurt by politics and a very conservative social view. Now it is starting to regain some respect and interest, as we continue to rise on firm ground among Yemen youth.
Q: Do you have relations and contact with similar organizations in other countries?
A: Yes, we do. We are in constant contact with sister organizations worldwide. We attend regional and international meetings and activities. We also seek international support for our activities.
Q: Who funds BSA?
A: It is largely funded by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. They give us a measly YR 500,000 a year. We also get finances from the Youth Support Fund, which is funded by taxes levied on tobacco consumption. Of course, the association also gets membership fees, which do not amount to much.
The UNFPA is now providing $600,000 for a three-year support project to be implemented in several governorates. The UNICEF also chips in.
Q: Could you tell us a little about the association’s organizational structures?
A: There is the general commissioner, that is me. He is assisted by commissioners for training, social development, relations with international organizations, environmental health, and information.
Q: What are your main activities?
A: Our activities are endless, all year round. The association, however, is more active during the academic year than during the summer vacation. This due mainly to the fact that it is easier and quicker to get the pupils/students organized.
We hold training sessions on basic skills. The scouts annual camp is held to celebrate the anniversaries of the revolutions of Yemen. A torch is lit to mark a new year of the Revolution’s life. Summer camps are held in various governorates.
We need more financial support to do more. The experience and expertise are there.
Q: What skills do you teach?
A: This actually differs according to the age of the scouts. Six to nine-year-old Cubs, just starting and feeling very proud to wear a scouts uniform, are taught to regularly do a good deed on their way from home to school and back. This may involve removing a piece of litter from the street, helping a blind person cross the street, etc.
The older scouts are conducted through walking trips, camping for a day or two. This helps them to become more self-reliant and confident. Our motto at this stage is “Be Ready.”
Rangers, aged 16-24, have “Public Service is My Motto.” They do research, exploration trips, and social projects.
Q: What difficulties impede scouts activities in Yemen?
A: Lack of sufficient funding is the primary obstacle. This is compounded by the general state of the economy. Since joining the scouts is voluntary, many young boys refrain from doing so. They would rather work to support their families.
There are other types of problems. Some political parties and organizations try to influence the movement. If they are successful, the whole movement is doomed. The international scouts movement has been able to survive since 1907 by being universal and apolitical. It is quite a challenge for us to steer clear of political influence.
Other obstacles include lack of scouts centers in the governorates. Some of those that exist are small are not good for the purpose. In the southern governorates, much of the scouts association’s property – formerly nationalized by the previous regime – are now usurped by profiteers. I call on the government to rectify this situation.
Q: What does it cost to provide our boys and girls with a full scouts outfit?
A: Before unification, we used to get 10,000 uniforms every year from the government. A uniform used to cost YR 100, which we used to sell to our members at a token price – YR 30.
After unification, all this support stopped. Now a boy scout’s outfit costs around YR 1,500; while for girls, it is YR 3,000. We only get these uniforms occasionally, and only about 1,000 of them at a time. Scouts will be asked to provide their own uniforms soon.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: Our national plan started a few years ago and extends to 2002. It is very ambitious. In cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, we aim to rebuild the infrastructure of the scouts association and expand its membership. Some resources are already available for this purpose.