Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Be prepared -- for life

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.07.06
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PNAME: City Editorial
PAGE: B4
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen

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Be prepared -- for life

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If you thought Scouting isn't cool and is just the anachronistic refuge of nerdy children with a penchant for neckerchiefs and three-fingered salutes, think again.

To help you do that, keep in mind the 14 Ottawa youths, aged 12 to 15, who are leaving for the Canadian Arctic this month. Their 10-day trek across part of Baffin Island will see them ford glacial streams, hike past some of Canada's most stunning scenery and contend with a variety of obstacles, including the possibility of howling winds, sand storms, rain, snow, even the outside chance of polar bears.

In an age when Ottawa's young people are increasingly overweight and under-exercised, when outdoor recreation means moving from the couch and the Xbox to the porch and the Game Boy, where knowledge of Canadian geography is restricted to the city's various Gap and McDonald's outlets, one can hardly imagine a more worthwhile, salutary endeavour.

Indeed, the upcoming expedition is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the physical, mental and spiritual benefits accruing to the teens and pre-teens taking part. The majority of the benefits have already been realized during the intensive, two-year preparation period. In no particular order, these include: the glowing health that comes from climbing in the Adirondack Mountains on three separate occasions; taking a number of multi-day canoe trips, including an eight-day wilderness trip in Temagami; embarking on four winter camping trips, during which the Scouts learned to build snow shelters; and countless shorter day-hikes.

No surprise, then, that a photo of the youngsters shows them to be, without exception, lean and fit-looking -- in stark contrast to the 40 per cent of Ottawa-area youth adjudged to be overweight or obese.

Then there's the focus and self-discipline that comes from working towards distant goals, the social skills that come from working as part of a team, and the confidence and self-esteem that come from being able to handle oneself in wilderness situations.

A range of specific skills, including first aid, survival and rescue techniques, paddling and climbing, map-reading, GPS and radio use, and long-range and contingency planning, are also likely to come in handy, regardless of what career the Scouts eventually grow up to pursue.

Perhaps most important, the Scouts are gaining an increasingly rare appreciation of the natural world. We can hardly expect our children to take over the vital task of preserving their (and our) environment, if they've never seen it. This is especially important for Canada's Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions, which are increasingly threatened by global warming, sea and airborne pollutants, and cultural decay.

Kudos, then, to Scout leader Frank Taylor and the intrepid members of the 17th Ottawa Scout Group, for proving that Scouting is not only alive and well, but with a little imagination and a lot of ambition, can be more relevant than ever.

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