Heatwave, typhoon, bugs at 25th World Scout Jamboree teach participants to always ‘Be Prepared’

A typhoon was coming, and parents about 4,400km away were worried about their children.

For the Malaysian contingent in South Korea, the typhoon was just another challenge. We had already been plagued with other problems, namely, a heatwave and bugs, lots of them!

On Aug 1, I attended the 25th World Scout Jamboree, which was held in Saemangeum, South Korea. I was a representative of the Girl Guides Association Malaysia, along with 78 other guides and leaders. The rest of our 500-strong Malaysian group consisted of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I expected this jamboree to be a fun-filled event with activities and talks. But the South Korean weather had other things planned for us.

It was the first jamboree for many of us in the Malaysian group, and we were all anxious. The more briefings I attended prior to flying off, the more excited I got.

I thought I was well prepared with all the right clothes, currency, and even phone applications I would need. But there was no way I could have anticipated the challenges ahead.

Expect the unexpected

• Extreme heatwave

Imagine a total of 43,000 scouts and guides on a flat campsite directly under the boiling hot sun. While we may be used to the heat in Malaysia, being in a 40-degree Celsius heatwave is something else. I was drinking six to seven bottles of water a day!

We were around 200km from Seoul, meaning that we were far from civilisation. Due to the heatwave, more than 6,000 participants fell ill from dehydration, rashes, and other ailments. Out of the 261 youth participants from Malaysia, four people fell sick, including me. I was dehydrated, and to make matters worse, I had multiple bug bites around my arms and legs. I almost couldn’t take it but I decided to persevere.

• Dealing with the heatwave

To reduce the number of participants falling sick, the Korean government provided the participants and the International Service Teams (IST) free mosquito repellents, free ice cream every day, iced bottles, and much more. The Swiss military also gave umbrellas to each participant, leader, and IST member, to prevent them from getting sunburnt.

We were also provided with “cooling buses” where we could rest while waiting for the activity sections to open.

• Typhoon Khanun

Just as things were starting to improve, we were informed that we had to evacuate because Typhoon Khanun was expected to reach our campsite by Aug 10. I was glad to escape the heatwave but slightly disappointed as we had to pack up and leave. There was a chance we wouldn’t see everybody again. There was some stress and panic as we hurriedly packed, hoping we didn’t leave anything behind. Before going to sleep, I visited my new friends’ tents to say goodbye and exchange contact details in case we didn’t see each other before we left South Korea.

The next morning, we were asked to clean and pack up by 11am as the bus would arrive around then. We followed the itinerary set for us but only ended up leaving at 2pm! Our Malaysian group was assigned to stay in the dorms at the Korean National University of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Expect the expected (also known as, the fun part)

• Kpop concert

Things couldn’t get better! It was my first jamboree and my first-ever Kpop concert. This was one of the highly anticipated parts of the jamboree. I rubbed my eyes a few times before the reality set in. “OMG! I’m looking at real Kpop idols!” There were multiple groups such as IVE, fromis_9, NCT Dream, HolyBang, Xikers, Zerobaseone, NewJeans, Itzy, Monsta X, and more.

I was screaming my lungs out during this concert. I sang the lyrics even without knowing Korean. I smiled the entire time as I realised how lucky I was to be at a Kpop concert with my closest friends. What made the night extra special was that the entire Malaysian contingent was given VIP seats, which meant we were directly in front of the Kpop idols!

The night before leaving South Korea, I packed all my stuff, making sure my bags didn’t exceed the weight limit. As I was packing, I looked back at all the photos I had taken within the past 12 days and reminded myself how lucky I was to be there.

Not many people get the opportunity to attend a jamboree packed with planned and unexpected events. As the bus left the university for the airport, a wave of sadness washed over me. I thought I would be happy to head home; instead, I was sad that the jamboree had concluded.

There has been a lot of criticism levelled at the organisers of this jamboree, mostly focused on poor planning. I guess, you could see it that way if you wanted everything to be beautiful, perfect, and easy for the participants. But, life seldom happens that way. After all, the common motto of the Girl Guides, BoyScouts, and Girl Scouts is “Be Prepared.” That’s definitely what we needed!

One thing this jamboree taught me was that challenges can be difficult, but no matter what happens, teamwork is what helps us overcome it. I have worked together with so many people during this jamboree and I cannot forget the moments we shared. Although distance may keep us apart, it’s the memories that we forged together that keeps us close at heart.

As I looked at the tired faces around me on the plane, I was sad that we would be going our separate ways soon. I cannot wait for the next jamboree. The 2023 Jamboree and South Korea had promised lots of fun. It gave me the time of my life.