Saudi Scouts welcomed 1,500 campers from 85 countries to Jubail, with the words “Welcome to Saudi Arabia! Welcome to the land of Peace! The hosts had planned this camp as the first of their Gifts for Peace – with the aim to learn first-hand about other cultures, other nationalities and other faiths. Scout camp life in Saudi Arabia is full of singing, dancing and laughter. Participants exchanged food, songs and folklore on the international day, they made an expedition to discover the wonders of desert life, and joined in evening concerts and social activities. Soon the visitors felt completely at home.
Apart from the normal activities in the camp, Scouts took part in a series of workshops organized by the Saudi Centre for National Dialogue. The Centre – a brainchild of King Abdullah – is tasked with involving ordinary people throughout the country in discussion to find the way forward for the future. Together, the participants - men and women - discuss issues such as the rights of women, preventing militant Islam being taught in schools or preached in the Mosque and how to open the Kingdom to others from different cultures, nationalities and faiths.
“My job,” says Faisal bin Muaammar, the Centre’s boss, “is to take people who may not want to sit together in the first place, and have them shake hands when we are finished.” Faisal and his team helped the Scouts discover consensus building, conflict resolution and mediation techniques.
“These workshops have changed my impression of Saudi Arabia and, in fact, of Islam, completely,” says John Lawlor, then a political science student from Ireland. “The skills of peace-building can be learned by any of us. And the methods work – the changes they are bringing about in Saudi society are truly amazing!
“It was certainly an eye opener for all involved,” writes Rob Abson from Australia. “We learned so much about other cultures, and of Scouting’s role to foster peace through its 28 million members.
We all left camp still humming the Together for Peace song – with many memories and ideas of what to do when we got home. John and Rod were among a small group chosen to represent the camp in a visit to the Royal Palace in Riyadh. His Majesty King Abdullah renewed his call for Scouts to work for peace and understanding worldwide. “The God of Judaism, the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same God,” His Majesty stressed. “We just pray to Him in different ways. When we work together we can achieve peace in communities, in countries and throughout the world.