“Always Prepared”?: how the 25th World Scout Jamboree descended into chaos


Ladies and Gentlemen, scout’s honour and a firm handshake: welcome to the 25th World Scout Jamboree! Picture it: 48,000 scouts of all ages gather together in South Korea, ready to make new friends from around the globe and share life-changing experiences in a badge & necker exchange galore. However, the campfire went out quickly for the scouts that were going to face logistical mishaps, extreme weather phenomena, and organisational canyons that they wouldn’t be able to navigate even with the best of compasses. 

How would I know though? Well, I was there

What is the World Scout Jamboree?

The World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) is a massive international gathering of scouts from all around the world, aiming to celebrate the values, goals, and history of the scout movement. Organised every four years, you can say it is the Olympics of scouts, the World Cup of Bear Grylls enthusiasts. The event itself promotes peace, tolerance, and environmental preservation along with cultural exchange. 

This all sounded exquisite, and the spirit of excitement was evident among my peers and me as the plane was taking off towards 15 days of proper scouting adventure. Final destination: Incheon Airport, South Korea. After many hours on air and about a 4-hour drive to the main campsite located at Saenmangeum, our journey was about to spring but awaiting was only the first of the many challenges we were going to face: there were no tents or pallets for our contingent to sleep in for the night and no food until (perhaps) the morning after.

The adventures begin

Medical staff treat patients at one medical facility within the campsite

All the participants of the event were staying in tents directly in the center of a tideland, with no natural shade to sit under in order to endure the 38C degrees of the Korean August. At least 400 people required medical attention by the end of the first day due to heat-related problems.

There were more patients, with symptoms related to heat, dehydration, or some of the worst bug bites I have witnessed, but there were no hospitals close by. “I am personally afraid that an epidemic outbreak is just a matter of time,” one of the participants said in the Korean Times

The next days were soundtracked by ambulances, especially during the early afternoon when the temperatures and the humidity (averaging 80%) were at their peak. Additionally, participants faced problems with inadequate or spoilt food, poor maintenance of the sanitary facilities, and lack of information regarding the event’s agenda.

The double face of the liquid element

Needless to say, these conditions were not the ones participants expected when paying the considerable fee for participation. On top of the hardships mentioned, the lack of readily accessible drinking water was one of the major issues that were faced at the Jamboree. To obtain this basic necessity, scouts frequently had to traverse long distances that could take up to 15-20 minutes of walking in the sun.

Many participants experienced additional financial strain as a result of the growing costs of essentials like water, ice, and snacks at the on-site convenience store, money that they were hoping to spend on souvenirs or keep in case of emergency – even though they were living through one. 

While the participants spent their budget on the aforementioned, they were wondering where the event budget of ₩200 billion KRW ( $154 million USD) was spent, given a construction site that was lacking even the basic drainage facility. What began as a quest for adventure soon turned into an unexpected quest for higher ground, as scouts navigated their way through muddy waters, which would later prove to be the lesser elemental evil.

Out of the ‘woods’

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The UK and US banners taken down after the contingents left the event

It was not long before the domino of plot twists came our way, with the announcement of both the US and UK contingents pulling out all their participants from the event. Although things had started to look up with the organiser providing cooling buses, better water supply, and augmented healthcare and security personnel, other contingents would follow suit.

One could say that it took us by storm, but then the real storm came to play forcing all the participants to evacuate the campsite effective immediately. This exodus was executed in a manner fitting the general spirit of the event, as the buses taking contingents to their refuge, ranging from dorms to stadium floors, were severely uncoordinated and contingents reached their destinations with 4-5 hour delays.   

Somewhere over the rainbow

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Me and my fellow scouts on our way to the WSJ Opening Ceremony

However, in the midst of the harsh conditions, the disrupted itinerary and the evacuation, we managed to create some unforgettable memories with the members of our contingent and people we met along the way. The adventures we faced as a collective gave a dash of humour to the whole ordeal and made the positive experiences of the event so much more worthwhile. The jokes we made, the food we had, the parties, and the late-night talks are only a few of the pictures that come to mind when I reminisce about this trip.

Being a scout means having compassion, camaraderie, and being able to figure your way out of any situation with the help of a positive mindset. Would I have wanted the event to be organized and coordinated better? Absolutely, I’m sure that every attendee would agree with me on that matter. However… 

Do I regret this experience? Not for a single moment.

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