Why My Children Are in Vietnamese-American Scouting Troop
Whenever I reflect on my childhood, I realize my own children, in contrast, have so many different activities to choose from. Growing up, my parents weren’t so well off, so the option of taking piano lessons, participating in a sports team, or joining after-school programs such as art, karate, or cooking was usually precluded. Instead, scouting was the only activity that I could join that was affordable, fun, and educational.
Fast forward twenty years, the opposite is true; there are so many other activities to choose from. So, why did I choose scouting for my four children, in addition to piano, lacrosse, and tennis? Many of our friends have their children participate in many more activities, leaving very little time for their children to partake in scouting during the weekends. For my wife and I, we reserve the weekend for scouting because we believe in its value. We wanted our children to have a similar experience to what I had as a Boy Scout and to what my wife had through her faith-based youth organization. We were even more encouraged when a research study published in 2016 supported our decision to make scouting a central part of our family life.
Dr. Richard M. Lerner of Tufts University asked a simple question, “Does Scouting really create good kids?” The study involved 1,800 Cub Scouts and 400 non-scouts, and it showed that scouts are more likely to be kind, trustworthy, hopeful and helpful. In addition, scouts value the good of others rather than their own achievement. Furthermore, kids who reported that they liked wearing their uniform, attended meetings regularly, enjoyed camping, and having a best friend in Scouting made the biggest strides in positive character development.
We could have joined any scouting organization, so why did we pick a Vietnamese-American scouting troop, and in particular, Liên Đoàn Chi Lăng?
The last part of the question is simple. I grew up in Chi Lăng where I earned my Eagle Scout rank so it was natural to put my children in the same troop. But the first part is a bit more complex. There are so many other local troops near our house, but we chose to drive twenty minutes to a park where we could have easily just crossed the street to attend meetings. (Compared to other Chi Lăng members who drive from San Diego, my drive is relatively close.)
I wanted a scouting troop that offers Boy Scouting, Girl Scouting and Vietnamese scouting. I didn’t want to drive my twin girls to a Girl Scout troop meeting one night, my younger son to a troop meeting, and my oldest son to a Venturing crew meeting on separate nights. My wife and I wanted a place where our family can participate together as an integral unit along other families with similar interests and goals.
Although my twin girls can develop a diverse skill set from the GSUSA programs by doing their journeys and Awards, and my two boys can learn so much through the BSA programs, my children would benefit most through a scouting troop that offers both programs. But if a scout troop is able to teach my children Vietnamese culture, heritage, language, and history, then that would be the ideal troop for our family.
Liên Đoàn Chi Lăng, like many other Liên Đoàn around the country, belongs to HĐTƯ-HĐVN. Some may question why such an organization (HĐTƯ-HĐVN) should exist. They argue that World Organization of Scout Movement (WOSM) doesn’t officially recognize HĐTƯ-HĐVN, as they only recognize Boy Scouts of America (BSA) with about 2.4 million youth participants and close to 1 million adult volunteers. (WOSM by-laws only recognize National Scouting Organizations (NSOs) that operates within the national boundaries of their country.) Even though HĐVN had been recognized as a NSO in Vietnam and was a WOSM member before 1975, it’s not recognized anymore because of Vietnam’s current political situation until recently. In January 2019, Pathfinder Scout Vietnam became the 170th member of WOSM.
For the past 44 years, many Vietnamese troops all over the world were encouraged to join the NSOs of their new countries of residence. In turn, “the NSOs were asked to give these groups a special status within their movements, allowing them to use their own language and traditions, permitting them to wear a South Vietnamese flag badge in addition to the national badges of the country involved.” (Piet J. Kroonenberg, Undaunted II, Las Vegas International Scouting Museum, 2004)
WOSM’s Secretary General Laszlo Nagy wrote a letter on June 7, 1983, to Dr. Phillip Nguyễn Văn Thơ, as the last President of Boy Scout of Vietnam, urging him and the founding father of Vietnamese Scouting, Tr. Trần Văn Khắc, to pursue “the creation of a central committee of Vietnamese scouts in exile.” The support for a central committee was bolstered by a letter written by James W. Sands, Director of International Relations, National Office Boys Scout of America, on June 10, 1983.
On July 3, 1983, following a meeting in Costa Mesa, California, with Vietnamese scout leaders from all over the world, a Vietnamese coordinating committee was created, Hội Đồng Trung Ương-Hướng Đạo Việt Nam (HĐTƯ-HĐVN), or International Central Committee of Vietnamese Scouting (ICCVS).
One of the provisions in HĐTƯ-HĐVN charter states that it supports both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts organizations worldwide. (This is different than HĐVN, which is part of the WOSM so the focus of HDVN before 1975 was mainly for males. There was a separate Girl Scout organization pre-1975 that didn’t belong to WOSM).
While BSA belongs to WOSM, Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) belongs to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). These are two separate worldwide organizations. (GSUSA has 1.8 million youth participants and about 800,000 adult volunteers.)
Therefore, to be part of HĐTƯ-HĐVN, many Liên Đoàn are registered both as BSA and GSUSA members, while retaining our cultural heritage as encouraged by both WOSM and NSO back in the early 1980s. Being registered members of both scouting organizations, we abide by the rules and regulations by paying dues, completing applications, taking Youth Protection Training and Leaders-Specific Training Courses, as well as other training sessions offered by both local Boys Scout and Girls Scout Council.
To me, this is what makes Vietnamese scouting troops so attractive! LĐ Chi Lăng, like many other Liên Đoàn, is a multi-level, scouting organization that believes in the values of BSA, GSUSA, and HĐTƯ-HĐVN. On its own, each organization has great strengths, but any Liên Đoàn that operates on all three programs maximizes its opportunities for their scouts. For example, Chi Lăng utilizes the resources of BSA Venturing Crew events for both our female and male scouts to attend high adventure events or camping trips that are often difficult to obtain via GSUSA. Soon, LĐ Chi Lăng will enroll our girls to join Scouts BSA so that they will have opportunities to do merit badges and possibly pursue Eagle Rank. Girl Scouting offers a different and important experience than BSA, such as journeys, cookie sales, and service projects. Chi Lăng boys and girls attend HĐTƯ-HĐVN’s Trại Họp Bạn (Thẳng Tiến), Trại Liên Kết, and Chào Cờ Đầu Năm, as these events offer deep connections to our roots, heritage, and culture. If my girls join an American Girl Scout troop, and my two boys join an American Boys Scout troop, they would be missing out on so many opportunities. Even if my girls join the Scouts BSA program along with my boys, they’re still missing out on an amazing experience that can only be obtained with Girl Scouting. Only a Lien Doan (a terminology that has no comparable English translation and therefore is a word by itself) can offer such an unique opportunity for entire families to participate in scouting as part of three great organizations.
Those who focus on the Vietnamese flag worn on a uniform only see scouting as a BSA organization. It is not! Vietnamese scouting is a triad of HĐTƯ-HĐVN, BSA, and GSUSA. I’m proud to be registered with all three organizations, serving as a Boy Scout leader, Girl Scout leader, and a Hướng Đạo Trưởng. I’m not conflicted because I see myself as all three. If one accuses me of hypocrisy when I wear a BSA uniform and yet I call myself a Girl Scout leader or a Vietnamese scout, they need to realize that I’m registered with all three organizations. Whatever uniform I wear or do not wear doesn’t take away the fact I’m still a registered Girl Scout Troop Leader, Huong Dao Truong in HĐTƯ-HĐVN, or a BSA Pack, Troop, or Crew Committee Member.
To many of us Vietnamese scouts, HĐTƯ-HĐVN is more than just scouting. It represents who we are, regardless of where we’re born or our citizenship. We are descendants from “Con Rồng Cháu Tiên,” where our ancestors have fought for thousands of years to maintain our Vietnamese culture and language. We are an extended scouting family, forever tied together by our common history as refugees and immigrants as a result of a mass diaspora. While we’re citizens of our new country where we pledge our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America at every Chao Co, we’ll never forget the sacrifices that our parents and grandparents made to give us what we enjoy today. And we will never forget all the hard work and sacrifices made by our scouting brothers and sisters to give us Vietnamese scouting today.
HĐTƯ-HĐVN was created with the blessing of the General Secretary of WOSM and National Office of BSA to be an independent voice for Vietnamese scouts worldwide. HĐTƯ-HĐVN encompasses more than just BSA; it also welcomes WOSM, GSUSA, and WAGGGS.
Therefore, HĐTƯ-HĐVN cannot be a branch of BSA or GSUSA as that would go against the principles of what HĐTƯ-HĐVN stands for.
BSA has its own mission statement, and their mission isn’t to promote Vietnamese culture, language, and heritage. Their mission doesn’t promote GSUSA’s journeys or Bronze, Silver, or Gold Awards; likewise, GSUSA’s mission doesn’t promote BSA’s merit badges or Eagle Scout programs. Only an independent scouting organization like HĐTƯ-HĐVN can promote our Vietnamese identity that is expressed through our traditions, songs, customs, and uniforms (light blue uniforms that our female scouts have worn proudly for years).
For many parents, they always have a choice to pick whatever activities they want their children to participate in. Joining a Liên Đoàn instead of a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop is one of those choices.
For us Vietnamese scout leaders, it’s no longer a choice, but a responsibility for us to work together to preserve our heritage and roots so that our children and their children would be able to experience Hướng Đạo like we are able to now. We need to do our part to ensure that our Liên Đoàn is part of an inclusive scouting movement that includes three great organizations—BSA, GSUSA, and HĐTƯ-HĐVN.
As we look towards the future, we must never forget the past, and all the contributions made by so many Trưởng to our HĐVN history. We will always remember their sacrifices and willingness to give all to many generations of Trưởng, including my current mentors and Trưởng in Chi Lăng, who have ignited the Hướng Đạo passion in each and one of us. Hopefully, that flame will continue to burn among the future generations so that one day they can bring back Hướng Đạo to our ancestral homeland.
Liên Đoàn Chi Lăng Foundation