During the course of the lockdown, Michael Westhoff was awarded the Springbok Scout award. It is the highest award that a member of the Scout movement can achieve in South Africa. Fewer that 1% of scouts qualify for the honour.
To be eligible, the scout has to complete a number of advanced tasks, before he turns 18 and Michael, a member of the 1st Bedfordview Scout Group, completed them in March. Because of the ban on gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the award could only be made last week.
The tasks include adventure activities, safety awareness, living outdoors, community service, scout skills and personal development.
Michael has been in the scouts since he was 11 years old and will be leaving now, because he has turned 18 – the cut-off age. “After this age scouts can join the Rovers, an adult group where ex scouts get together socially and undertake projects,” he said. “I have other plans, however, I want to go to the UK next year, I have citizenship through my father and I want to join the British and do marine training. All of that is on hold now because of the pandemic, so we will have to wait and see.”
The scouting journey has been a great one, Michael said. “I got to spend time with my best friends and we undertook many adventures together. In the process, we were seriously tested and I learnt a lot about myself. I found out where my limits are, learnt how to manage people and learnt many life skills.”
For the community service component of his Springbok Scout qualification, Michael decided he wanted to leave a legacy. “I didn’t want to become involved in projects that were not sustainable, so I decided to build something that will still be there when I have moved on. I built a Jungle Gymn in a park in Bedfordview. It is constructed out of wooden poles, set in concrete and future generations of children will be able to play on it,” he said.
Andrew Campbell, Senior Scouter at the 1st Bedfordview Group, describes Michael as a special young man. “In my experience most 18-year-olds revel in the accolades that are normally heaped on them in their final year of school, and like to be the “big man” on campus. Not Michael. He would regularly step back from his patrol to allow his patrol second (2nd most senior scout) to run the patrol, allowing Michael to train him and provide him with guidance, even though this meant that Michael was not necessarily in the limelight.
“He also shows an uncanny knack to empathise with younger boys, I have often watched him make new scouts feel at home and part of the family.” Andrew believes scouting in more important now that ever before. “In today’s world, many young people are at a risk of losing their direction,” he said. “Scouts teaches them valuable skills, but alllows them to be themselves. It’s an educational programme, but it’s also fun.”
Michael agrees. “The programme has had to adapt because kids have so many options nowadays,” he said, “it has to be relevant, but it remains a journey of self-discovery, what you learn there will be valuable for the rest of your life. I will always be grateful that I was part of it.”