THE ROAD LEADING OUT of Nairobi deteriorated as our Land Cruiser bounced north. Our driver pushed the white SUV faster, scarcely dodging potholes, livestock, and motorbikes, as well as the streams of locals who walk the roadsides.
After three hours, we entered the township of Nyeri. Our guide, Samuel Ndukwe, jumped out to meet Peter Kimita, assistant national commissioner of the Kenya Scouts Association. I had not been told I would meet such a distinguished Scout leader; Peter had not been told I was the “American Scouter” who was paying a visit.
He had read my books Legacy of Honor and Spirit of Adventure, and we shared a special moment of mutual recognition before we exchanged patches from our respective Scouting programs. Peter, in his immaculately pressed khaki uniform, led us several blocks north to a modest concrete and iron gateway, just off the town’s main street. Inside, we found a small contingent of local Scouters standing before a neatly kept dirt path leading to a row of trees. Lining the path were large stones, each bearing one point of the Scout Law. Our growing delegation walked to the path’s end and passed through another gate into a cemetery. We traveled down another path to a picket fence. White stakes bordered the gravesite of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting.
Three years earlier, I had stood on the shores of England’s Brownsea Island, where Baden-Powell staged the camp that would launch the Scouting movement. Now I stood at the other bookend of his life: Kenya, where he had retired after seeing Scouting through its third decade.
Just several feet of distance and earth separated me from the man responsible for the largest and most important youth movement in history. Every hair on my neck and arms stood on end as Samuel and Peter guided me to the gravesite. We knelt together by the simple marble headstone that bore the fleur-de-lis of Scouting. I traced my hand across the black lettering, which read: “Robert Baden-Powell; Chief Scout of the World.” His wife, Olave, World Chief Guide, was buried with him, and below their inscriptions was a simple circle with a dot inside, the Scout trail sign for “I have gone home.”
Peter humbly asked if I would repeat the Scout Oath with him, and we stood together behind the headstone and raised our right hands in the Scout sign. Looking over the grave and Mount Kenya beyond, two Scouts from different generations and different continents renewed our mutual commitment to Baden-Powell’s vision.
Today, the gravesite stands well-kept, and its small museum displays scarves and patches from Scouts who’ve traveled here from every continent. Not long ago, however, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair, and nobody helped share the history of this special place.
Fortunately, an American Eagle Scout came to Kenya after graduating college in 1983. He taught English and served as a Scout leader in a rural village. After he returned to America, Walter Dean founded Habitat Aid, a charity to help the people of Kenya. He also adopted Baden-Powell’s gravesite in Nyeri, and began helping Kenya’s Scouters reclaim the cemetery and finish the simple white building that serves as the museum and welcome center.
With the leadership of Walter Dean and Peter Kimita, Baden-Powell’s gravesite has again become a worthy international memorial to Scouting and a frequent stop for the Scout units who seek high adventure in the African highlands. Touching the cold marble of the headstone and brushing the white pebbles that cover the grave reminds each pilgrim of Scouting’s roots and our everlasting duty to the movement’s enduring ideals.
Eagle Scout ALVIN TOWNLEY has authored several Scouting books, including Legacy of Honor and Spirit of Adventure. His latest book is Fly Navy. Learn more about Alvin’s books and buy copies at alvintownley.com.