July 27, 2020

from the usa to kenya, RECONNECTING DURING COVID-19 TO PROMOTE the PURPOSE, PRINCIPLES and methods of scouting
Kenyan Henry Waitindi and American Lynn Brooks met a year ago at the 2019 World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. They shared the same passion for International Scouting. One year later, amid the pandemic, they reconnected: Lynn donated 200 hygiene kits to be distributed in the Dadaab refugee camp by a group of Scouts led by Henry.

A year ago, Henry Waitindi and Lynn Brooks left  their respective homes 8,000 miles apart from each other in Nairobi (Kenya) and Austin (Texas) and headed to the same destination, The Summit Bechtel, a reserve in West Virginia that hosted the 2019 World Scout Jamboree. Henri was accompanying Kok Matim, a South Sudanese Boy Scout living in the Dadaab Refugee Camp, who was chosen by the Kenya Scouts Association to participate in the Jamboree to showcase how Scouting can empower refugees through education, skills development, community service and citizenship activities. Lynn was there as Texas’ International Scouting Representative. They had never met before, but they shared the same dream: to promote Boys and Girls Scouts’ purpose, principles and method worldwide.

“Henry made such a big impression on me. What he has been able to do in Dadaab is simply amazing,” says Lynn, referring to the training of 95 Scout leaders in Dadaab as part of “Transitional Support for Integration and Quality of Education in Dadaab Refugee and Host Community,” a project funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

“Lynn was very interested in the plan AVSI has to take Scouting activities to Somalia and offered to give me Scout literature on similar situations where Scouting was established in difficult environments and thrived,” says Henry, AVSI Kenya Project Manager and Scout Leader.

Lynn was also planning to bring a refugee Scout from Kenya for an exchange visit to Texas for six months in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic foiled her plans. Yet, the connection between Lynn and Henry wasn’t interrupted, It became more regular. They have exchanged ideas on WhatsApp, through email, and they even met remotely in a JOTI, a virtual version of last year’s World Scout Jamboree. Henry shared how Dadaab Scouts are helping the local community to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the refugee camp. Lynn was so impressed by the new activity that she decided to help.

“When Lynn contacted me because she wanted to support the fight against coronavirus, I was very excited because it was the proverbial ‘stitch in time,’” says Henry. “This support was timely because the refugee staff working in the three quarantine centers inside Dadaab were going on strike to protest the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). There was also an increased influx of people coming from Somalia and settling in the host community. There was a pressing need to support the families hosting the immigrants.” 

Through the Kenya Scouts Association International Commissioner, Lynn donated enough to buy 200 hygiene kits. Each kit contains two hand sanitizers (100ml each), five washable face masks, and one liquid soap (750ml).  The hygiene kits were distributed to the most vulnerable refugee and host community families in Dadaab by the Scouts supported by the PRM-funded project. Volunteer refugees working in the three quarantine centers also received some of the kits. 

“It is heartwarming and moving to be able to help people during this time. The COVID-19 pandemic hit everybody, and it feels good that I can help, even if in a small way. They know we are here for them, we are here doing the best we can to support them. Being involved with International Scouting was always a reminder that we are together, but now this is even more true.” 

As soon as the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, Lynn wants to jump on a plane and get back to Kenya. She has  visited the country before running music workshops in remote villages as part of Recorders without Borders; an NGO Lynn founded to collect recorders, bring them to students in Kenya and train Kenyan teachers. Now, she dreams of distributing recorders and training teachers in Dadaab. Recorders without Borders partners with Moja Tu, a Kenyan NGO that was responsible for buying the PPEs and putting the kits together.

“Nothing can replace a heart to heart experience,” remembers Lynn, sharing that she has goosebumps just thinking about the children she visited in Kenya. “We go out to schools, and they are remote. Just the fact that we show up at their school is such a powerful connection. After that, everything is gravy.”