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World peace, harmony and marmite – Esther’s alternative summer

Fri 13 Sep 2019

I’m Esther, a Development Consultant at Support Staffordshire and in the summer I undertook a 3 week stint volunteering this summer taking 36 young people aged 14-17 years old from Staffordshire to the World Scout Jamboree in the USA with 3 other leaders.

The World Scout Jamboree is significant in the scouting calendar.  Originally devised by the founder of scouting Lord Baden-Powell, the idea was to bring young people together from all over the world in an effort to promote peace, harmony and tolerance.  This theme very much lives on today in this event that take place once every 4 years. 

This was the 24th World Scout Jamboree, hosted jointly by Mexico, Canada and the USA at an incredible reserve in West Virginia with over 43,000 people from 169 countries in attendance.  For a period of time it very much became a small city, each unit of 36 young people and 4 leaders occupying a small part of the site in regimental rows.  Our unit was sandwiched between a Swedish and a Japanese unit with Switzerland, Lebanon, USA, France and Scotland just across the way, creating a multi-cultural environment that would be difficult to replicate in any other way.

For a period of 12 days of the jamboree itself, the young people took in a variety of high adrenaline activities from zip lines to scuba; axe throwing to climbing.  They also participated in the global development village, learning about the issues facing the world today and solutions that are being proposed.  We even heard an inspiring and moving speech from Ban Ki-moon, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, about climate change – encouraging us all to take action. On cultural day they tried activities that every unit in attendance had brought with them to showcase their culture.  This ranged from eating some very interesting foods to having a go at dances.  Being from Staffordshire, our unit decided to take Marmite and ran a love/hate chart….love just about won!

Either side of the jamboree itself we were able to visit New York City and Washington DC Many famous sights were visited and the young people learned to navigate themselves across very big cities. If that wasn’t enough we went to Canada for a home hospitality event.  This has always been an important part of the UK experience when attending a world scout jamboree – to go and experience what it’s like to live and scout within the country visited.  We were hosted by a scout group in South West Ontario who put on a number of amazing activities for us and were able to visit the incredible Niagara Falls during our time.

We came home exhausted but elated.  For myself as a leader I have watched these young people grow ever since they were selected nearly 2 years ago.  They have each had to fundraise a significant amount of money to attend and have generated business ideas and concepts doing so, learning the all-important skills of net and gross profit.  They’ve dealt with frustration when ideas haven’t worked.  Presentation skills have been learned as they’ve delivered these to audiences big and small.  They’ve balanced fundraising with the pressure of exams and developed personally, overcoming fears.

Practical skills at the jamboree have been gained including cooking for 40 (!) budgeting and washing clothes.  But perhaps it is the softer skills that will ultimately have the most impact.  The confidence and self-esteem that they now have has evolved from being part of something so big, being away from their families and loved ones for so long and coping with the challenges of living and working together as one cohesive unit. 

I’m proud to have been part of this journey and of the young people who will become the leaders of the future in every respect.