My Jamboree Experience 2023

Posted on Jan 20, 2024

In lieu of the WOSM World Scout Conference in Egypt coming August, I wanted to share my experience at the World Scout Jamboree 2023 in SaeManGeum 새만금, Korea where I volunteered in a subcamp office.

The text originally came from the Germany-internal feedback system, where they had a 500 characters box to describe what “you didn’t like at Jamboree”. I felt like writing down everything that I remembered in October 2023, so the German CMT had one more reference point to carry to WOSM and WSC, and now I want to share an English translation with the public.

My position was called “Subcamp Management” in Subcamp 11 Marathon in the Goryeo hub. It was planned that we were 24 ISTs for the subcamp, 12 Koreans and 12 Internationals. During the 10 days or so, we got more help (I was pulled here from a Programming job, too) and lost staff (i.e. the two Brits that had to leave early). Out of the 24 people, a third was tasked with subcamp programming, a third for office, reception, lost+found and all that, and a third for infrastructure and food delivery. I was in the infrastructure division. We had (up to) 47 units in our subcamp, so 1700 youths and 200 leaders.

Besides me, there were two more German ISTs in the infrastructure division, and we were the base for four German Units. We also had a Korean–English translator from ROK Army who helped us and the Korean-speaking staff.

This article is divided in seven sections:

Sanitary conditions, Trash, Contractors, Safe from Harm

In the subcamp, we had 6 toilet containers for 2000 people, which is plainly too few. Only one of the containers was dedicated for adults, so for the ~130 male adults we had one sink for washing our hands, brushing teeth and shaving, three urinals, and two toilets. The females did not have the urinals, but five toilets.

There was an extreme shortage of toilet paper, we only got stocked up on day 5 for the ISTs (2023-08-02), and we did not have clean toilet paper at all for two days. Yet, there was toilet paper because the drainage system could not handle the paper and it had to be thrown in garbage bins in the stalls.

The showers and drinking water fountains did not have their drainage at the lowest point of the basin, which meant that there were multiple centimeters of water and dirt in the basins at all time.

There was no concept to dispose wastewater, which meant that the units used the fountains to clean the kitchen utensils and clothing. This further worsened the condition.

It’s more luck than skill that there were no widespread bacterial infections at the camp under these circumstances.

To collect trash, there was a standard tent which was never cleaned. While we started by dividing the trash mountains, they fell together quickly, and we resigned.

The toilets were positioned in such a way that the youths sometimes had to walk 500m per direction for a toilet. Multiple units noted at the daily subcamp meeting that the state of the sanitary tents and containers let their kids to drink and eat less so they didn’t have to walk the distance and use the toilets so often. Since the two porter potties of our subcamp also needed water supply, we couldn’t move them closer to the affected units.

The cleaning troops came around super sparsely, before the president eightfolded (what the heck) the staff they were not there once, after day 7 for the staff (2023-08-04) they came around about once per day. However, they did not contribute to the cleanliness of the rooms: The mop for the floor was also used in the toilets and in the sinks and cleaned afterwards in the drinking water fountains. The personnel did not understand English or Korean, there was no communication possible with them.

Basically none of the contractors (also: power, food delivery, etc.) spoke any English and when requested in Korean, all of them said that they did not do the Safe from Harm training. Every single day, contractors went into the shower tents and toilets of youths of both genders without knocking or acknowledging the protocol. The contractors also smoked in masses directly in front of the youths and in the facilities. When we asked them to stop, they did not show understanding. Since it happened so often, we could not inform the Comprehensive Situation Room (CSR) about all occurrences.

Food Delivery for the Units

The subcamp staff worked together with the food delivery volunteers to deliver breakfast/lunch and dinner to the units. Our job here was to get the food crates out of the containers, sort them by unit and hand them out to the waiting kids.

8 × 47 crates of food stacked on pallets. Each unit receives four breakfast (white label) and four lunch (yellow label) crates. Image from 2023-08-02.

Once the kids were gone, we had to rush to bring the rest of the food out of the blazing heat into the fridge container. That was of course, after we were cleared by our subcamp chiefs to use the fridge container although there was a lot of mold found in the fridges in the other subcamps.

The truck for the breakfast usually came punctually at 4am, the dinner truck which should have arrived at 4pm usually came around 30min later.

We did not have enough food all the youths. Almost at every delivery, something got mixed up or we did not have any food for a unit. Since we also got excess food for the units that were not present (NL coming a day later, UK and US leaving earlier), we then built up a stock of food that we shared with the problematic groups.

There was almost no way to correct missing food through the food contractor, because OurHome had their facilities 45km away from the campsite, so 45min of driving through the country and then another 45min on the campsite.

Multiple units had issues with their ordered food. For example, a unit from Malaysia was placed in the “General Food” line instead of the “Halal Food” line. After a few days they said that they were feeding themselves with almond milk and crackers since day one since those were the only halal items in their crates. We tried to escalate the issues (this and multiple others) to our OurHome person in the subcamp, the food management team and the cultural diversity team, and via the HOCs of the respected units, but the contractor was unwilling to change the orders.

The responsibilities for the food delivery for the 2000 people in the heat with the extended requirements was extremely stressful and exhausting for us. Although we did everything that we could, we felt responsible for the malnutrition of the Malaysians, the missing dinner of the Swedes and the wrongly labeled and handed out breakfast of the Indonesians. We spent a lot of energy to make sure that everyone was well fed.

To cool the unit food, the organizers handed out styrofoam boxes, but only provided ice on 2023-08-04 when the first contingents already declared their early departure. Until then, the units in my subcamp did not have any option to keep their food cool - still at 38deg in the shade.

After a few days, a volunteer of the Food Safety Division showed up, who later described to us how allergy food and their safety should work. The system for the allergy-substitution meals was extremely unorganized and there was much information missing – the ingredients were only available in Korean and as such not readable for us, the food safety division and the units.

IST Dining

Whenever I had a unit-food-delivery shift, which was almost every day, the distance from the subcamp to IST dining was too long. Every breakfast and dinner were 30-40 minutes walking there, standing in line for 60-120 minutes, eating for 20 minutes, and walking back for 30-40 minutes, so two times 2.5 hours every day. Also, we had to watch out that we didn’t go there too late because at 8:30am sharp the door closes for the day.

Around day 6 for the units (2023-08-06), we started using the leftover stock of crackers, fruits and candy that was not picked up by the units; and did not go to IST dining any more. This led to higher isolation in the subcamp and that we spent our entire waking day under ventilation in the office in “work mode”, even if we weren’t on shift.

I had the luck that General food was okay for me and that I didn’t need to check for allergies, else the food diversity would have been much worse.

Streets and Transport

The road design, the missing streetlights in the path ways, and the lack of sidewalks has led to many dangerous situations. Every single day, fast-driving busses and trucks overtook us with too little distance.

One day, the food delivery truck almost backed into a group of youths with high velocity. Since then, we placed road marshals for the arrival and departure of the trucks.

There were too few paved roads in the subcamp that were accessible for the ambulance. We had multiple ambulances in our subcamp that got stuck in the sand. This was especially stressful when the kid had an injury at camp or couldn’t walk for some reasons (i.e. because they were unconscious).

The nature of the paths and the large distances was also a problem for the wheelchair users and mobility-reduced scouts in our subcamp. On the last full day (2023-08-07), I took those out with our subcamp-golfcart, so they had the chance to see the campsite at least once.

Paved Main Road with the "shade" tunnels on the side. Two scouts were walking on the road, a bus is in the background. Image from 2023-07-31.

The ever-changing street rules made it more complicated to use the golfcart. The one-way-system trifolded our distance to the Hub Clinic.

The bus system was not useable for us, because the busses were always at capacity, and we had to wait at P1 for another 30-60 minutes for the connecting bus. From the subcamp to the staff office, the bus usually took two hours, so walking or using a golfcart was always preferred.

Medical Emergencies

At any given day, we had five to ten ambulances in the subcamp because youths and leaders had health issues. Most cases were exhaustion, poor conditions, circulatory problems, fainting and panic attacks, mostly coming from the heat and the malnutrition. When we requested an ambulance, the youths have usually been in the subcamp office already for some times, where we had ventilators, shade, frozen wet towels (the infamous shower towels) and cold water. However, we are not trained first responders, so we always had a unit leader with any child.

Additionally, we took multiple kids every day to the hub clinic or Delta Hospital by golfcart or car, because we knew that an ambulance would take too long, and the youth couldn’t stay medically unattended for so long.

The emergency services number 119 was not usable for us, because the operators did not understand English and hang up the call when they heard an English voice. Instead, we always had to go through one of the Korean subcamp ISTs who were often hesitant and delayed the emergency call.

Multiple times, we ordered multiple ambulances for different emergencies, but only one arrived, because someone (in the situation room or on our end) mistakenly only thought of one call.

The aforementioned CSR was only reachable through the IP telephone in the subcamp office. Calling from the cell phone always created issues, and the daily fighter jet show didn’t contribute to the understanding.

Psychological situation for the ISTs

The Jamboree was extremely stressful and exhausting. I had very little free time, and the isolation in the subcamp, and the incredible number of tasks and issues everywhere meant that I was working all waking hours.

Almost every day, we stood up at 3:45am for the breakfast delivery, worked physically for four hours (until all food issues had been resolved) and were then too late for the IST dining. Instead, we crackers, fruits, and candy carried us through the day.

One day, I had a back-to-back shift from 3pm-to-10pm, next to a 4am-to-12pm morning run. In the morning shift however, I was the only one with experience with food delivery because I had to swap in for the Brit who had to leave.

We had exceptional mental situations in the team every single day, since the workload and the issues were so large. Almost all ISTs of our subcamp used the Listening Ears in the Hub Clinic and at Staff Hub, and we had a good team spirit in the international team.

Flooded campsite on 2023-07-31. The stacks of pallets and the two tents were provided by the Jamboree.

We had about one hour of pouring rain two days before the kids arrived, so we spent the next day digging trenches in the heat. At one time when we were knee-deep in a puddle, the team lead informed us that the unit on this lot had a wheelchair user, and we couldn’t help but laugh in our resignation.


The ten days/nine nights in SaeManGeum were truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience – in that I hope that one of the world’s largest youth organizations will not let a fiasco like that happen again.

This article lists dozens of difficult and dangerous situations which could have been prevented by proper planning, and I’ve only touched on the issues that I have seen in my role firsthand.

Seeing how the campsite handles rain, the general infrastructure is already at capacity and the hospitals are working around the clock, I’m thankful that we did not have to experience the typhoon at camp and that the university dorms around Seoul welcomed us so heartly.

I’ve made a lot of friends at Jamboree and in the time leading up to the event, some of which I know from 2019, some that I made in Korea. I hope to see them in Poland in four years, where we can celebrate Jamboree properly together.