Thirty-three thousand young people gathering in one place is a pretty impressive feat. It’s even more impressive when those 33,000 people are united by something wider - a promise to do our best, to serve our communities, and to stand for what we believe in. That is what the World Scout Jamboree does – it brings together Guides and Scouts who share these principles from more than 160 countries for the experience of a lifetime.
I was lucky enough to join 4,000 Guiding and Scouting members that travelled from across the UK to the 23rd World Scout Jamboree in the Yamaguchi Prefecture of Japan. More than 3,000 of the young people who attended were aged 14-18. They took part in a programme themed around the idea of a “spirit of unity”, which included a visit to Hiroshima Peace Park. The rest of us represented the UK as members of the International Service Team, with the privilege of making the experience happen for the Guides and Scouts taking part.
As part of the team, I arrived at the campsite before the participants and at that point it was just a vast expanse of land, peppered with the odd marquee. Then it quickly became home with flags from the 160 countries flying from every tent when everyone had arrived. Eventually it was not just national flags, but also fairy lights, laundry and bunting that blew in the breeze, each item reinforcing the diversity but also the similarities between the young people taking part. The energy and atmosphere on site was incredible.
My role was in the culture module, where every Guide and Scout spent time exploring Japanese culture and those of the other countries represented. There was a dizzying array of choice, from balloon making and a Japanese tea ceremony to skiing and drumming – the marquee was always buzzing with people keen to try new things.
I spent the week teaching ceilidh dancing – quite a challenge in more than 35 degrees of heat and 95 per cent humidity. It was also challenging to direct so many dancers at one time – but it was amazing. For many of the participants ceilidh dancing is nothing like their own national dancing so they were a bit confused to start with. But with our help they gradually got the hang of it and it was great to see them break into smiles as they mastered the steps. The UK and Scandinavian participants who had done it before loved trying it again and even taught us new dances. Swapping dances became a bit of a thing – the groups next to me were teaching Colombian-style dancing and Japanese dancing and I taught them to do a Highland fling.
The Jamboree was not all hard work, though. One evening the Scottish contingent hosted a ceilidh so people could put the moves they’d learnt into action. It was the best ceilidh of my life. It was fantastic to not only see some of the participants having an amazing time but also to celebrate with our fellow Scots on the International Service Team, who were incredibly supportive and kind and definitely liked to party. We also had the opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park before the Jamboree began and to drop into Kyoto and Tokyo’s Disney resort before flying home. I felt really lucky to be able to explore Japan as well as take part in an event as amazing as the Jamboree.
My journey to Japan has created so many unforgettable memories and I’m so grateful to guiding for giving me the opportunity to explore a new part of the world and meet young people from all over the globe. So will I go back to Japan? Yes. Will I go the 24th World Scout Jamboree? Hopefully. Do I recommend that you go, too? Definitely.
• Georgina Rolfe, 19, is a Girlguiding Scotland Senior Section member and a Brownie Leader in Aberdeen.