Sep 01

World Jamboree

I was part of the 22nd World Scout Jamboree in Sweden this year.  The odds are that I will meet someone in the future who was there too but I didn’t know them then.  I’m still buzzing from the thrill of it all. 

Our Riders contingent was made up of 27 Explorers from across Leicestershire, 3 leaders and hosted 9 scouts from Papua New Guinea and their leader.  The PNGs arrived at Heathrow after 20 hours flying and a stop in Singapore, a few days before our departure to Copenhagen.  Some of our contingent gave our PNG friends a tour of London visiting all the famous sites including Gilwell Park.  Then it was onto Leicestershire for home hospitality with other Riders families.

All 40 Riders left Birmingham airport on Monday 25th July for Copenhagen.  We spent a few days in the beautiful city with the rest of the 4000 UK contingent.  The highlights were a power boat ride and Tivoli Gardens – a theme park cross large public gardens equipped with shops.  We ended our stay in Copenhagen with a huge UK contingent party in a massive warehouse.  There were street acts and some fantastic bands with the Danish group Alphabeat headlining.  It was a great start to the Jamboree.

The next morning we headed for Rinkaby, Sweden – the actual Jamboree site.  Excitement was rife and we were itching to get off the coach and into the atmosphere of the camp.  A sea of tents, flags and gigantic, impressive, pioneered structures engulfed us as we stepped off the bus.  Little did we know that this was just Autumn sub-camp… and we were staying in Summer – the other end of the site!  It must have taken 20 minutes to walk with holdalls on our backs and day bags on our fronts to our 20m2 pitch.  The enormity of it all was almost overwhelming – in essence, a Jamboree is a massive festival of culture.

Each sub-camp was divided into Swedish towns.  We were camped in Finnerödja – named after an area of Sweden known for its strawberries.  Stockholm was behind us and Vimmerby close by too.  There were 3 contingent sub-camps: Summer, Autumn and Winter.  Spring sub-camp was adult only and was where the International Service Team camped. 

The Jamboree began with an Opening Ceremony.  Everyone gathered in a huge field and the flags from every country attending were paraded through the crowd and onto stage.   There was music, lights and inflatable globes drifting over heads.  I had the honour of saying the scout promise in front of, what, only about 40 000 people! No biggy!  Oh, and I met Bear Grylls backstage – as you do!  On a serious note, I was so lucky to have been picked to do this.  I have never seen so many people or at least camera flashes because it was dark!  A scout from Canada read the promise in French and then it was my turn in English.  It wasn’t our UK promise but a world version.   I had to say to God and “my country” rather than “the Queen” as not every country has a Queen.  I was concentrating so hard on not fluffing it up that I had no time to be nervous.  It was truly immense, the whole experience. 

English and French along with the host country’s language are used at jamborees as this is what most of the world can understand.  All the signs read in Swedish, French and then English.

Sweden’s Jamboree theme was Simply Scouting and the activities reflected this.  The focus was on discovering and appreciating different cultures and looking after the world around us, as well as developing as an individual.  There were six towns full of activities which we visited for a day each: People, Quest, Dream, Camp in Camp, Global Development Village and Earth.  Culture day involved every unit demonstrating their culture.  The Riders handed out marmite on bread and Walkers crisps as a Leicestershire theme.  In the afternoon there was a carnival.  Everyone was dressed up in flags, hats and traditional clothing.  Culture day was fabulously vibrant. 

Camp in camp involved packing up clothes, food and sleeping bags, leaving the Jamboree site and heading off to another traditional Swedish scout camp.  We went in our patrols of 9 with a leader and were with about 5 other patrols from different countries.  Camp in camp was a chance to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the Jamboree.  We were lucky enough to be camping next to a lake.  Our two days involved splashing around under the sun in a tranquil Swedish lake and paddling around it in canoes.  Our hosts were so friendly and understood that we just wanted to swim!  They had arranged activities like candle making too for those who didn’t want to get wet.  We were part of a traditional Swedish campfire where everyone was expected to perform something.  We sung “My garden shed” which became our Riders’ song.  To light the campfire, they brought a flaming torch on a canoe across the lake and onto the land!  We had Fika; cake and coffee at 4 pm each day.  I think we should introduce Fika to the UK!  It was fantastic to be part of a traditional Swedish camp with people from all over the world – a mini Jamboree in itself – everyone belonged, we’re all scouts. 

Back at the Jamboree there were spontaneous activities that you could just rock up to.  On Summer sub-camp, zorbing was the main attraction.  Sealed inside a human sized transparent sphere filled with air, you could play about in a large paddling pool.  It’s one of those things that’s easier to watch than to do as you slide around in the zorb on the water not getting very far!  If you ever get the chance, go water zorbing and you’ll see what I mean! 

All too soon it was time for the closing ceremony, another gathering of all 40,000 participants for music, celebrations and to say our goodbyes.  Units began to travel back to their home countries, including our Papua New Guinea friends.  For the UK contingents, there was another adventure in store.  We went on to various European countries for Home Hospitality.  The Riders went on to Lithuania.

We took a coach back to Copenhagen airport then flew to Vilnius – the capital of Lithuania.  Then another coach ride landed us in Panevėžys at a convent.  We had the 3rd floor.  It was a lovely big open building, fairly new.  The nuns cooked for us most nights, while 2 scouts and 2 leaders did a fantastic job of squeezing the whole of Lithuania into 5 days.  Their English was impeccable as was everyone else’s at the jamboree!  I felt inadequate not being able to talk Lithuanian.  On one of our trips we came across some lads and armed with a phrase book, we tried our hand at Lithuanian!  That’s what it’s all about – the jamboree spirit is meeting people from different countries and getting to know them. 

We visited the Hill of Crosses… a hill, full (and I mean full) of crosses.  There were little ones hung on big ones and prayer beads draped over them too.  We visited a bicycled museum, a museum in a stately home covering the history of Lithuania and an old village where people live today.  We took a trip to the capital and bagged some bargains as everything is considerably cheaper in Lithuania.  It’s definitely worth a holiday – one of those places you don’t expect to go to.

The food was delicious.  We tried many traditional dishes – the most memorable being a bright pink soup, cold, made from beetroot, red cabbage and sour cream.  We were so lucky to have been hosted by such wonderful people – it was a shame we could only spend a few days with them.  We’ve invited them back so hopefully we can repay their kindness and show them what it’s like here in the UK… 4 countries in one – that could be a challenge! 

A World Scout Jamboree is a once in a lifetime experience.  The 22nd to Sweden will be part of me forever.  I’ve got my sights set on the 23rd but it will have to be as part of the International Service Team.  They’re the people who make it all happen for the scout participants.  If you were born between July 1997 and July 2001, then your one chance to go to a World Scout Jamboree will be to Japan in 2015.  Take it!  See you there.

Erin Billington