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Scouting trip to Curacao changed my life

Peterborough Troop 8: Hancock book represents U.S. at 15th Caribbean Jamboree

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The adventure is over, but the memories are sure to last a lifetime! My participation in the 15th Caribbean Jamboree in Curacao this summer was absolutely amazing. Let me start at the beginning. As one of 15 Boy Scouts representing the United States, I had an opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange with scouts from more than 15 other countries. Not only did I learn a lot about them, but I learned about myself as well. The first exciting event was during Opening Ceremonies when the Prime Minister and other dignitaries greeted us. They were very impressive, and I now know that at that event we began becoming united in our mission as Boy Scouts, even if we didn’t realize it at the time.

The theme of the Jamboree was “Life Tracking Treasures,” which is about life itself being a treasure and all of us being on our own path of discovery. It is our own task to develop ourselves to achieve our own happiness. For me this wasn’t a new thought, but how would I achieve this so far from home? As I reviewed my island surroundings, it felt odd to be the minority and to hear a different language spoken at times. But the very friendly smiles and other gestures allowed me to quickly be at ease and somehow forget the obvious differences in my new found scouting friends. We were all messengers of peace!

The “Life” of the Jamboree had four basic elements. They were the air we breathe, the earth around us, the art of fire and the water between our countries. Their meanings were played out in fun activities such as “Jamboraft,” which is raft building, rescue swim and my favorite, treasure diving. The scuba diving was incredible, as I had opportunity to dive in the area of a sunken tugboat. The fish were amazing in color, variety, and there were so many!

The art of fire played out in dance, music, acting and crafting. It was amazing to see the artistic skills of my fellow scouts. Although this was an enjoyable area for me, it was obviously not my strength! Many laughs were had at my expense.

I was happy to move onto the Global Development Village, which was presented to teach scouts about the latest advancements and initiatives in social development, peace and the environment. This area was staffed by International organizations who know a lot about these issues. I was amazed at the information presented about climate change and water purification. It was obvious that the United States has fewer water issues than some of the other countries. Hearing stories from scouts about their countries really made me think about how fortunate I am to live in the U.S.

The bigger picture in this area was “connecting the dots” of life between our new scouting friends and the larger world around us. It does matter what I do back in my home country and community. It is the small efforts to reach out to others that will change everyone’s lives for the better. I need to be a “Messenger of Peace” no matter where my time and energy is spent now or in the future. I am proud to say that Troop 8 in Peterborough participates in “Messenger of Peace” activities in our community, like the annual “Peace Light.”

One of our days was dedicated to Curacao’s history. We toured the colorful city of Willemstad and visited the Maritime Museum, the fort, many statues and even saw the fish market. This city is very unique with its bright colored buildings with fancy designs. Very different from home in nearly every way that I can think of! They even have a huge pedestrian bridge that allows hundreds of people to easily walk from one side of the island to the other.

Our nights were just as busy, with patrol Game Shows that taught team work, movie night and even a night hike. The hike was like no other I have experienced, as it was a scavenger hunt. The only disappointment was that it was cut short due to concern for tropical storm Bertha.

The Jamboree organizers did not lose track of the fact that “A Scout is Reverent.” Spiritual Valley consisted of five religions and opportunities to experience religions that may not be familiar. The Valley was divided into three areas. The “Meet” area is where the scouts reviewed written material about each religion. Then onto the “Make” area where items were made that are reflective of the faith. Then there was time in the “Meditate” area where silence was mandatory. It was impressive to see so many scouts in this area being completely silent. This was truly a special area that I will not soon forget, despite my lack of artistic skills!

One of the cultural bonding activities was the “Friendship Award.” This program is intended to enhance international friendships by sharing one’s culture. Participation in all activity areas was required for the award, which meant teaming up with many scouts from other countries. Activities such as eating dinner together, playing games like tug of war in the water, and working together at the Global Development Village were opportunities to get to know each other. As each day passed, it became easier and easier to reach out to other Boy Scouts and share our lives in some way. A number of my new friends from Barbados sent me home with one of their neckerchiefs and a neckerchief slide. The importance of this is that, in scouting, it is our neckerchiefs that bind us together. I think one of the funniest things I did was learn some of the Papiamentu language, but messed up some of the words so we all had a good laugh. Perhaps I’ll stick with communicating in English in the future!

The largest and most diverse event was Cultural Festival Day. Wow! Every contingent of Boy Scouts, from every country, had a display, presentation and so much more relative to their country. Each scout also had opportunity to try the native foods of other countries. There were giveaways, such as small flags, luggage tags, and info cards to share. So what do you think the U.S. Boy Scouts provided to fellow scouts? Well, being in a hot location, paper fans with a U.S. flag design were quite the hit. Scouts and leaders were seen using them during the rest of the Jamboree. I brought 144 small American flags and gave them away with one of my new friends. It took less than 30 minutes and was an absolute blast! Yes, we did provide food and beverage at our cultural table. What do you think we shared? I had the honor of serving lemonade to fellow scouts. Beef jerky and homemade chili were our food items, which seemed to be of interest to the other scouts, as well.

Once the evening arrived it was our time to represent our country on stage at the Arena Show. The U.S. contingent rocked the house, while show casing our national past time: baseball. The “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” sing along was awesome as we acted the strike outs. The scouts of other countries truly made it great as they joined in. This song rolled into a surfing song and a repeat-after-me song! Oh, it was loud and full of energy in the arena.

The native dancing and costumes of other countries were spectacular to me. The colors were bright and many of the scouts were very talented. Didn’t matter whether it was dancing, drumming or singing, they did it all very well! At the end of the night it was “block party” time and clearly new friendships had been made, as each country was no longer only hanging out with their own contingent. We had truly become “Messengers of Peace.”

Soon it was time to head home, a scout well-traveled and now reflecting on my path to the 15th Caribbean Jamboree. Honestly, this trip was only possible because I am a Boy Scout. Many scout leaders and parent volunteers have prepared me for this trip, beginning when I was a young Cub Scout welcomed into scouting by Cubmaster Lauren Martin. The time has flown by and there were days when I wondered if I’d really be able to learn the scouting skills before me.

As I journeyed from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, I learned more about leadership and continue to benefit from my fellow scouts and great leaders like Scoutmaster Chris Edscorn of Peterborough’s Troop 8. I still have much to learn as I hone my leadership skills, but I also have plenty of time for improvement! Thanks for spending time with me on my trip. Your 2014 International Jamboree News Correspondent signing off.

Stephen Baird lives in Hancock.

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