08 September 2017
We learn more intimately about scouting in Malaysia through the scouts of Victoria Institution's First Kuala Lumpur Scout Group.
It’s a Saturday evening, and the Victoria Institution (VI) on Jalan Hang Tuah is teeming with scouts in various coloured uniforms – grey for land scouts, white for sea scouts and light blue for the air scouts. These young scouts from different schools are here to attend VI’s 108th Year Anniversary Campfire 2017.
Scouts eagerly waiting for the camporee to begin.
As evening arrives, these scouts (over 500 in total) gather around the campfire site with burgeoning excitement – evident in the way they stand to attention and sing the national anthem with fervent pride; loud and booming within the four walls of the school’s assembly point. When the campfire is ceremoniously lit by the State Commissioner, the scouts erupt into cheers and applause, the flames now burning in full force.
Four scouts lead the State Commissioner to light the campfire in stoic silence.
The VI is home to the country’s first scouts troop, aptly named First Kuala Lumpur Scout Group, which was first established on 15 March 1909 by its principal Mr. BE Shaw. It then expanded into another entity called Second Kuala Lumpur Scout Group.
The State Commissioner takes a torch from a young scout.
Scouting is much more than a mere extracurricular activity. To a lot of passionate scouts, it’s a lifelong commitment that’s ingrained since the beginning of their scouting journey. “It’s all about survival,” says Abdul Razak, an old boy of First KL who now oversees the 23rd Cheras Scout Troop.
He’s however unimpressed by the scout troop of his son’s school, where he’s an active member of its parent-teacher association.
A theatrical performance of the world-famous Scouts song, Ging Gang Gooli.
“Bluntly, I told the principal of the school that the scouts troop was terrible. They didn’t learn much. They just wanted to earn their points because it’s part of their co-curriculum – that’s all.”
Abdul took the initiative to reshuffle the troop, asking the scouts to remove their store-bought badges and earn them back via activities and tests. “Earning badges boosted my spirit and my dedication to achieve something,” he explains.
A valuable lesson he learnt as a scout: “Your brothers will not leave you behind, because to scale a wall you need at least two people.”
Abdul Razak, old boy of VI’s First KL.
Unfortunately, Abdul has lost touch with his brothers, but a group of his elderly seniors regularly meet on the last Tuesday of every month. Veteran scouts Lee Chee Sung, Dr. Henry Ng, Peter Ng, Eddie Yap and Loe Tuck Yen – some of the attendees of the monthly meet up – boisterously recount their scouting adventures in great detail, much like how young boys would. Even though it’s been decades since they’ve put on their scouts uniform, the kinship among these former First KL scouts remains strong.
Scouts badges are earned and worn proudly.
“We didn’t have any maps then; we learnt through trial and error. We’d leave a trail like Hansel and Gretel, we’d nick the trees and that’s how we found our way out,” recalls Lee. Another intrepid scouting highlight was spending four days to sail down the Klang River, which was then riddled with animal carcasses and human excreta disposed from the toilet bucket system of the 1960s.
A field of scouts donning the 108 Years KL Scouting Heritage neckerchief.
All these scouting adventures would be inscribed into the scouts’ log books that were kept at the VI’s Scout Den – a two-storey structure made of wood that was unfortunately burned down in 2007, reportedly due to an apparent short circuit. In 2012, the men even held a Gang Show to raise funds to rebuild the Scout Den, but to no avail.
Participating scouts standing at attention to sing the
national anthem beneath VI’s hand-painted motto of 2017.
“When we went back to build the den with Dr. Henry Ng being the architect, we ran into heritage problems. The VI was declared a heritage building so you can’t simply build what you want,” says Lee. “It was usually where we had our meetings, stored our scouting gear, memorabilia, and log books – all of that now is gone. All our history, gone. Now the young scouts don’t even know the legacy that we left behind,” he laments.
Peter Ng’s official scout badge of the Thai national Jamboree in 1973.
However, Zairin Adam, an Assistant Scout Master of First KL, confirms that the VI Scout Den is being rebuilt. “From what I have been told, they are trying to incorporate shipping containers in the design to save costs and give it a sort of modern look, I suppose. But I have not seen the finalised design yet. Hopefully the den will be rebuilt by next year in time for the 125th Year anniversary celebrations of Victoria Institution,” he says.
With the original spot being taken over by a TNB power station, the new Scout Den is slated to be rebuilt where the “Cabin” is – an ill-maintained space where the scouts currently store their equipment beside the computer lab.
Zairin himself is quite a decorated scout. In early 2016, he became the first VI scout since 2000 to be awarded the prestigious King Scout Award. “I’ve been a scout since I was ten years old and it was my ultimate goal in becoming a King Scout as it’s an internationally recognised certificate that’s signed by all the sultans and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.”
Peter Ng’s official scout badge of the 14th World Jamboree 1975 next to a photograph
of more than 17,000 scouts depicting "Five Fingers One Hand".
Besides that, the 19-year-old was also part of the Malaysian contingent to the 23rd World Scout Jamboree 2015 in Yamaguchi, Japan. “Our group of six scouts from the First KL Scout Group worked hard and prepared for three years to attend the event. We started planning and fundraising in 2013, and two years later, we were having the time of our lives, experiencing new cultures and high-class educational scouting programmes,” says Zairin.
Woggles of varying styles for a scout’s neckerchief.
Before that, First KL’s last participation in a world jamboree was in 1975 for the 14th World Scout Jamboree in Lillehammer, Norway – popularly known as Nordjam 75. Peter Ng, a former Troop Leader of First KL in the 1970s who’s now part of the veteran scouts group that meets once a month, happened to be one of the 57 scouts in the Malaysian contingent.
Peter Ng holds up an old photograph of himself as a boy scout.
“One morning, the entire camp of 17,000 was ushered to this vast field whereby we formed the shape of a giant hand, and an aerial photograph was taken depicting the Jamboree's motto ‘Five Fingers, One Hand’. ‘The Fingers’ representing the five continents all meeting at this Jamboree, ‘One Hand’ for unity, fellowship and brotherhood irrespective of race, colour or creed,” recalls Ng.
“I was selected to represent Malaysia as a delegate to the Second World Scout Forum at the Jamboree. One of the most important resolutions passed by us was to propose to the World Scout Federation to admit girls into the Boy Scouts Movement!” According to the Scout Association’s Annual Report and Accounts (2015-2016), 25 percent of its members today are female.
There’s a definite pride that comes from being a successful scout, because it takes zeal, devotion, resilience, and discipline to be one. Scouting builds individual character, but from these distinct stories told, one can find that it's camaraderie that strengthens the memories and experiences. As one scout puts it, “It’s not friendship, but brotherhood.”
By Cindy Low Shing Yi
and reproduced with their kind permission