Young Scouts in Bisho gain their HAM Radio Licenses

Written by Mtha Nazo, SSA Youth Influencer ECS

Every year thousands of Scouting members around the globe participate in the JOTI JOTA event where young people connect using the internet or HAM Radios.  This year 17 young Scouts from the Commscouts Group in Bisho in the Eastern Cape South Region will also be able to call themselves licensed HAM Radio operators after successfully completing the HAM Radio exams.

We sat down with HAM Radio Operator and Scout Alumni Dave Higgs and Scout Ambesiwe Ntonga who assisted the youngsters determined to become HAM Radio operator license holders.

What is HAM Radio all about?
“That is a BIG question. HAM Radio, in my view, is a gateway to science and the world, to friends and to opportunities”, says Dave Higgs. “HAM Radio is a hobby that focuses on radio communications and experimenting. There are many aspects to the hobby. Everything from high power to low power, voice to digital, sound to pictures, nearby too far away! Then there is the part where people build radios or antennas,  and those that restore the old ones. Some enjoy a “rag chew” , which is a good old-fashioned chinwag. Others prefer the faster tempo of contesting. So HAM Radio is way too much to put into a little box and say, “this is it!”.”

When were you first introduced to HAM Radio?
“Although I do not remember having a first impression of HAM Radio, it must have been at JOTA when I was a Scout. That would have been mid-80’s and probably involved a bunch of old guys talking on the radio while we stood by bored” laughs Dave. “Being of Scouting stock, I enjoy the outdoors and hiking in particular. One day I stumbled onto something called SOTA – Summits On The Air. SOTA is about climbing mountains – taking an entire radio station with you to the top – and then making contacts over the radio. I was fascinated, so I asked, “What do I need to do this?” and the answer was “Get a HAM Radio license!”. So, I did and soon I was hooked. In fact, when I got my license in 2014, the first contacts I made were from the top of a mountain!”

How has it been working with the young Scouts and helping them obtain their HAM Radio operator licenses?
“As I have mentioned, I was Scout and was involved in the adult side of Scouting for many years. When I resigned from Scouting at the end of 2015, I was approached by the South African Radio League (SARL) to assist with the Hammies project – Getting kids on the air. I was a natural fit and we have gone from strength to strength since then.
I really enjoy working with the Cub and early Scout age groups as I find their enthusiasm and excitement to be very rewarding. Watching their eyes as they make their first contacts, and then watching them grow in confidence is very rewarding indeed! I love it! I believe the discipline involved is good for kids and they thrive when they know what to do and how to do it. You see kids who are too shy to talk to other learners at school talking to strangers miles away over the radio. In Scouting adults have a “Scouting name”, so the kids don’t have a “school experience”. The same applies to HAM Radio where it is perfectly polite to call the other operator “Old man”. You want to run that by an 8-year-old talking on the radio for the first time. “Go on, call him Old Man!” It makes me smile just thinking about it!”, he smiles.

HAM Radio is also known for bringing people together through communication. What are the benefits and opportunities of being a Ham Radio Operator?
“One of the great opportunities with HAM Radio is that it provides communications for sporting events such as Ironman, Mountain bike races, and even the Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans races. At these events HAM Radio operators provide vital communications, We are also associated with Mountain rescue and other disaster associations. This means that we prepare for such opportunities to provide community service beyond the normal “beach clean-up”. I would encourage all youngsters to get involved with amateur radio as it is a great way to meet people and learn. Most radio HAMS will offer training free of charge, so make a friend and acquire a skill”, concludes Dave.

Scout Ambesiwe Ntonga obtained his radio license in 2017. He is quick to jump in and add “In the morning of the exam I wasn’t that nervous as I had faith in myself because I had studied. The advice I would give to other Cubs and Scouts is that the radio course can be difficult, so they must work hard and make sure they study. HAM Radio is a very fun hobby that people do all over the world, it takes you places! So writing the exam would be a good idea. Mr, Dave Higgs was the one who taught us everything we had to know. He also created opportunities for us because he invited our Scouter Rhino (Lunga Nqini) to the 5150 triathlons in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), and encouraged me to go on my first SOTA. Working with Dave has been a blessing as he has shown me and other Scouts true dedication. I appreciate what he has done for our Scout Group.”