Czech Scouts “in very good spirits” despite government-ordered evacuation of Korean campsite

Czech Scouts

The World Scout Jamboree, an international meeting of Scout organisations from around the world which takes place every four years in a different country, was plagued by problems from the start this year in South Korea. Heavy rains, a lack of preparation, a heatwave and now an impending typhoon have caused delays, difficulties, the premature departure of some countries, and now a government-ordered evacuation of the campsite. But the Czech Scout contingent is still looking forward to the second half of the Jamboree, even after its planned relocation to Seoul, says one of its leaders.

World Scout Jamboree 2023 | Photo:  World Scout Jamboree

The Korean government announced on Monday morning that due to the expected impact of Typhoon Khanun, an early departure will be planned for all participants of the 25th World Scout Jamboree from the campsite in Saemangeum. However, this has not dampened the spirits of the Czech participants, says Petr Vaněk, deputy leader of the Czech scouting organisation, emphasising that the Jamboree is not ending early, but merely relocating.

“They are still enjoying the last day of the programme on-site, they will be evacuated in an organised way tomorrow. They are in very good spirits and are looking forward to what will be happening in the next days when they will be in the capital, Seoul, in a safe environment and still enjoying the sisterhood and brotherhood of scouts from all around the world.”

The sudden evacuation and premature departure from the campsite will naturally mean some major changes to the programme, but Vaněk says that the organisers are doing their best to make sure that at least some of the planned activities can still go ahead.

“For instance, the closing ceremony that was supposed to happen on-site on the 11th will still be happening, but it will be happening in a concert hall in Seoul. And I know that between the organisers and the leaders and youth, there will be a lot of fun and individual encounters, games and exchanges still happening even if they are relocated to Seoul.”

Participants are still waiting to find out where and in exactly what kind of accommodation they will be housed in Seoul, with the announcement expected to come later on Monday or early on Tuesday. But otherwise, the Czech scouts’ plans remain unchanged, says Vaněk.

2019 World Scout Jamboree | Illustrative photo: Jakub Lucký,  Czech Radio

“Some participants or some units are coming home right after the Jamboree and this will stay unchanged. Some of them are staying longer, for a few days or maybe a week, in Korea for planned activities. There is no change to any of this.”

But the expected impact of Typhoon Khanun, which is predicted to hit South Korea on Thursday, and the resultant evacuation, was just one in a string of problems that plagued this year’s Jamboree. The campsite was flooded by heavy rains before the event even started, causing the Czech scouts to delay their arrival to a day later than originally planned. On arrival, participants found that the campsite still wasn’t ready, with drinking water and toilets not available in some places, and a lack of food for those with special dietary needs, poor sanitation and insufficient medical services.

Vaněk acknowledges that while pulling off a World Jamboree is never an easy task and that problems often arise in the first couple of days, this time the problems were more extensive and the organisers took a long time to fix them.

“It’s fair to say that many contingents, the Czech contingent included, were not impressed by the level of preparation in some areas. There were issues with deliveries of special diets; there were issues with the quality of taking care of sanitation facilities. This is something that the Czech contingent on-site was part of pressuring the Korean organisers and Korean government to change. They succeeded, but we are not happy about the way that the pressure had to be applied and about the fact that it took longer than we would have expected.”

The situation was aggravated by an extreme heatwave, with temperatures of above 35 degrees Celsius, made worse by high levels of humidity and a lack of shade. But although the BBC reported that hundreds fell ill with heat exhaustion, Vaněk says that none of the Czech scouts were seriously affected.

“There were minor issues within the Czech contingent, but it was nothing that would be unusual even in Czech camps in a normal situation. There were situations where they would lie down for a few hours in the shade and rehydrate, but nobody stayed in hospital overnight. They returned to their units right away.”

U.S. scout members gather to get on a bus to leave the World Scout Jamboree campsite | Photo: Choe Young-soo,  ČTK/AP

The heat and organisational issues led the British, American and Singaporean Scout contingents to depart from the campsite early and move to alternative accommodation. Vaněk says that now that the Korean government has ordered everyone to evacuate the site, the silver lining is that the Czech scouts can be reunited with some of their new friends.

“Our Czech scouts on-site were not excited about that [the early departure of some of the participating countries] because many of them had participants from those countries neighbouring on the campsite, so it meant that after three or four days their friends were leaving. But now I think we’ll be reconnecting, for instance, with the Brits and some others who had relocated to Seoul a few days ahead of us.”