Moa Mannerström, a 23-year-old Swedish scout unit leader, was attempting to lift the spirits of her scouts as the 25th World Scout Jamboree in South Korea spiralled into turmoil due to oppressive heat, torrential rain, and poor organisation — eventually leading to the site’s evacuation. This is her journal.
Wednesday 3 August: ‘It was a tense start’
We arrived around lunchtime. It was a day later than planned – we were told the camp wasn’t ready yet and there had been heavy rains, with nowhere for the water to drain off. When we got there, there was confusion about whether to set up our tents because we were in a red zone, meaning that if it rained we would be flooded. Eventually we moved to an orange zone.
But then it was time to head to the opening ceremony. There was a huge, slow-moving crowd, in total it took more than an hour to get there. People were getting pushy. I had scouts in my group with autism or anxiety in large crowds, so it was difficult. There didn’t seem to be any crowd control. The holdup was caused by a tiny two-metre-wide bridge that everyone had to go over. By the time we got to the arena, to see the [South Korean] president and Bear Grylls, there were no seats left for us, and my scouts wanted to go home.
When we got back to our camp, we then had to set up our tents. I finally got to sleep around 2am. I was tired, it was a very exhausting and intense start.
Thursday: ‘My scouts started getting heatstroke’
Breakfast was delivered between 4am and 6am so the breakfast patrol had to be up by 5.30am. One of our scout leaders was running on empty after so little sleep. And the tents got so hot, it was impossible to go in them after 7am, you’d just be sweating and have to get out. We decided to skip the activities in the morning to sort our camp out.
Due to the heat, several of my scouts quickly started getting sick with heatstroke. They were dizzy and nauseous from a lack of water. The water they did have from taps tasted of chlorine and got quite warm, and there was a lack of cooling boxes for drinks, only styrofoam boxes. In the afternoon, all the activities were cancelled due to the heat. I was kind of relieved.
The food wasn’t great for people with dietary requirements. I had one scout who was allergic to gluten, milk and shellfish, and she was given gluten-free cornflakes and a banana for multiple meals. For dinner, vegetarians had to eat just noodles as there was no protein alternative.
Friday: ‘Worry began spreading in the camp’
Most of the activities were cancelled again. My scouts were getting sicker and sicker and we needed to create some shade for them to lay in.
The toilets were unsanitary. They were divided into youth and adult but before I realised that, I used the youth toilets once. They were incredibly warm, the sweat just started dripping off you. When you went back out in the 33C heat it felt like a relief. There were bugs in there – mosquitoes, little beetles and moths – which felt nasty. The adult toilets were generally OK. But we heard stories from scouts about sanitary products overspilling bins in the girls’ and dried poop on one or two walls in the boys’ bathroom.
On Friday, we heard that the UK contingent was pulling out. They were the biggest contingent of about 4,500 scouts. It felt like a big clump of stone in my stomach, a fear of: how is everything going to hold together? IST [International Service Team of adult volunteers] was the glue holding it altogether, how was it going to work now? Lots of worry began spreading in the camp.
Saturday: ‘They cleaned up a lot of the mess’
Then the US left, too. It felt like there might be a domino effect. But the government and WOSM [World Organization of the Scout Movement] stepped in to make conditions better. They started cleaning the bathrooms many more times a day so a lot fewer toilets were clogged. They cleaned up a lot of the mess, put up tents for shade and were handing out water.
We did some activities on Saturday, like a “water gun” game and a blown-up water slide, and some scouts had the energy to keep doing things. But many scouts were tired.
On Sunday, one of my scouts was exhausted with heatstroke and needed the clinic. Their legs were numb but they were just given cough medicine and sleeping pills.
The IST volunteers were amazing and really worked their asses off. I could see in their eyes how tired they were.
Monday: ‘There’s a typhoon coming’
I went to the medical tent with a scout who sprained their ankle, but it was shut in the middle of the day. We heard they were even running low on things like ibuprofen..
By this point I was feeling exhausted. It was hard to keep everyone happy and joyful. People started saying: “This isn’t what we hoped for, this isn’t what we expected.” They were feeling boredom and disappointment and we didn’t have a good answer for them.
That night, a scout came to me and said: “There’s a typhoon coming!” But we hadn’t been told anything. Was it real? Was it just rumours? It spread like wildfire. That night we were told that the next morning we would be leaving the site.
Tuesday to Friday: ‘I’m happy my scouts are doing better’
After arriving on the main road at 8.45am, we waited for almost two hours for a bus. They planned to take us to university accommodation. When we finally got on the bus, it was nice to finally get some air conditioning. But it was bittersweet.
I felt really sorry for all the IST volunteers – working their best to make it work – and felt sorry for my scouts. As we drove away, the mood was very low.
After we left the site, we were evacuated to a university. They greeted us with hospitality and kindness. All of this had to be arranged within 24 hours, which is amazing. When the typhoon hit, all we got was a lot of heavy rain. We were very safe.
The closing ceremony took place on Friday in the Seoul World Cup stadium. We could see the performers but were placed at an angle so couldn’t see the screens. But the energy was good – scouts from all over the world sitting beside each other and enjoying the K-pop show.
The camp already feel like a distant memory – like something I dreamt. I’m incredibly happy that my scouts are doing so much better.