Parents say Canadian scouts learning ‘resiliency’ as storm forces jamboree to move in South Korea

Canadian parents with children at an international scout jamboree in South Korea say despite multiple weather and climate related hiccups threatening to call down the event, they’re happy their children are getting the chance to stay abroad.

The first week of the World Scout Jamboree in Buan was marked by extreme heat, resulting in hundreds of participants being treated for heat-related ailments and thousands of British and American scouts moving offsite. The Canadian contingent elected to stay. 

But on Monday, South Korean officials said they would evacuate tens of thousands of scouts ahead of a tropical storm expected to hit later this week and bring them near the nation’s capital in Seoul instead. 

Quebec resident Bob Fairhurst says he’s been a “stress case” since his 15-year-old son left for the jamboree, particularly because of the 13-hour time difference between the two countries. But he says his son has been “reassuring me more than I’ve had to reassure him.”

Canada’s contingent at the 25th World Scout Jamboree in South Korea includes 235 youths and 143 volunteers. Scouts have been experiencing extreme heat during the event and are now being moved to a new location before a typhoon that’s expected to hit the area later this week. (Submitted by Tooka Shahriari)

“The role of a parent is to worry about their child,” said Fairhurst. “But I have the utmost faith in the scouters and in his skills as well.”

Jamboree to move locations ahead of storm

Thousands of children aged 14 to 17 from 158 countries went to Buan for the 25th World Scout Jamboree, including 235 youths and 143 volunteers from Canada alone. The jamboree, where scouts can meet others from around the world, camp outdoors and take part in various activities, is held every four years. This year’s event was to take place from Aug. 1 to Aug. 12. 

Last week, South Korea raised its hot weather warning to the highest level for the first time in four years, as temperatures hovered between 35 and 38 C on Friday. According to the government, 138 jamboree participants received treatment for heat-related illnesses Thursday and at least 108 participants were treated for similar ailments following Wednesday’s opening ceremony.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) had earlier asked South Korean organizers to consider ending the event early, saying in a statement that organizers needed to provide assurances that there would be resources to address issues caused by the heat wave.

On Monday, WOSM said the South Korean government had told them it would provide details of departure plans and new venues for the scouts due to the tropical storm being forecast. 

“We urgently call on the government to expedite the plan for departure and provide all necessary resources and support for participants during their stay and until they return to their home countries,” the organization said. 

Fairhurst, an organizer with the 1st Aylmer club in Quebec, says he last spoke to his son Monday morning. He said his son is supposed to be headed to the new location near Seoul — something Fairhurst says is a “mixed blessing.” 

“I’m glad from one side that he’s going to be safe, but on the other hand it’s a bit bittersweet because he’s missing out on the experience that we had hoped it would be,” said Fairhurst.

A man with sun glasses on looks at the camera for a photo.
Bob Fairhurst says he’s been a ‘stress case’ since his son left for the World Scout Jamboree, but that he’s glad organizers are moving the event to a new location before the storm hits. (Submitted by Bob Fairhurst)

While the trip won’t be what he or his son envisioned, he’s happy the trip will continue, saying it was the right decision for event organizers to keep kids in South Korea.

“They’ve done right by my youth,” he said.

Scouts Canada plans to continue in Seoul

Scouts Canada says it’s aware of the plan to leave the Buan site and is working closely with the Canadian contingent to provide resources and support.

“This is not an emergency evacuation,” read a statement from Anissa Stambouli, the associate director of communications for Scouts Canada.

“It is a planned early departure from the jamboree site to ensure the ongoing safety of our youth and volunteers.”

On the ground, Scouts Canada says there have been no new heat-related health incidents. 

The organization says the aim is for program activities to continue in Seoul, noting that Canadian scouts are “in good spirits” and continue to enjoy the jamboree.

A view of the tents set up at the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea.
The sun sets on the campsite of the World Scout Jamboree in Buan, South Korea, on Saturday. American and British scouts pulled out of the Jamboree last week, citing scorching temperatures. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Situation teaching resiliency, mother says 

West Vancouver resident Tooka Shahriari says she’s happy her 17-year-old son is still abroad, despite the stress it means for his family here. 

She said the organization’s handling of the event has given her more confidence to send her daughter to the jamboree when she’s old enough. 

“One thing about Scouts is that it’s all about teaching kids resiliency. And I think this is doing that. Things don’t go the way we want them to go,” said Shahriari, adding her son begged her to help make sure the Canadian scouts got to stay.

“For them to spin, to adapt, to change their plans and still have fun … I think that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

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