Young people, just like me, often get a bad rap, written off as 'hooligans' or self-centred people who lack drive. Is this fair? The answer is simply: no! Throughout my Scouting journey, from a Beaver Scout (6-8 years) right up to the Scout Network (18-25 years), I've seen the power we as young people have to drive change locally, nationally and internationally, as well as the sheer determination to break down barriers, connect communities, and through all this, leave the world a little better than how we found it.
The Scout Association has recently launched a new community impact campaign, A Million Hands; a youth-led project that helps enable Scouts to change society by working together on issues we feel strongly about. One of the issues we're taking action on is clean water and sanitation - we want everyone, everywhere to have access to these basic human rights.
In Madagascar, local Scouts are making great progress on this issue through their brilliant partnership with WaterAid, working together to educate communities about good hygiene, and to campaign for water and toilets for all. So, with fellow Scouts from the UK, Becky and Hannah, I made the journey out there to link up with our Malagasy Scout family to learn from their fantastic example, while also seeing first-hand what life is like without clean water and toilets.
We joined sessions at the Scout camps on ensuring clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, and also joined them as they built facilities such as 'tippy taps' - a really easy way to wash hands where there is no piped water available. This is just one of many ways Scouts in the UK can take practical action to learn about the issue before they go on to create change. From speaking to their MPs about why we need to take action on clean water and hygiene, to linking up with a Scout group abroad, the possibilities are endless!
We saw how Scouts passed on these important lessons and raised awareness of the issue to the wider community through performances and presentations at a 'Dobodoboka' - a festival they organised with WaterAid in the marketplace. It was great to see just how trusted and valued the Scouts were in their community, and how successful they were at driving change. The event was attended by journalists, the Mayor and other influential people, sending a ripple effect of change throughout the community. In Madagascar Scouts are known as 'change makers' because of the impact they are having.
We saw why the work of WaterAid and the Scouts is so vital when we visited Ambonidobo, a village that relies on water collected from a small dirty pond teeming with bugs. We joined Noeline and her friends as they carried their heavy jerry cans up a steep hill, which becomes a mudslide during the rainy season. I was incredibly inspired by how the girls faced their daily struggle with such strength, hope and optimism, and am thankful that WaterAid will be working in the community soon to introduce clean water and sanitation.
The difference these facilities will make was so apparent when we visited Manakasina, where WaterAid has already helped build water points and toilets. These simple changes have completely transformed the community. Speaking to local people, they told us how there has been less disease since clean water was introduced, and more time for young people to play, stay in education and have a childhood. This filled me with optimism that the young people there will reach their dreams of becoming doctors, teachers, and all the other amazing roles they spoke about with such pride and enthusiasm.
Across the world, one in ten people live without safe water and one in three people have no access to improved sanitation. As a result, 900 children die every single day from diarrhoeal diseases. By working together, we can help to end this global crisis.
Taps and toilets, things we so easily take for granted, really do transform lives. I'm so proud that Scouts in the UK have chosen to take action on this important issue. In just one week, we learned so much about how we can join together with our Scout family in Madagascar, and across the world, to help get clean water and toilets for everyone, everywhere.
Scouts can and do change the world.