From survival skills to making friends, how being a Scout prepares you for life
As tens of thousands of Scouts and Guides from around the globe get set to attend the World Scout Jamboree in Japan next week, Una Brankin meets four of the Northern Ireland team.
A Donaghadee teenager will play a key role at an international scouting extravaganza in Japan next week in front of a crowd of 30,000, when he will represent the UK Scouting movement.
Sixteen-year-old Sean Francis, who was chosen from 4,000 contenders to lead the UK contingent at the 23rd World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) in Yamaguchi City, will carry the Union flag at the closing ceremony of the spectacular event, which is the largest global outing in the Scouts calendar.
Sean, who will play a pivotal role on behalf of the UK's thousands of Scouts in the Far East, says he is proud to have been chosen for the honour: "When I heard, I really couldn't believe it, and to be honest, I probably won't until it actually happens."
And there's no one more delighted at Sean's success than his Jamboree Unit leader, Peter Wilson (40), from Bangor, who says the Scouts are all looking forward to the spectacular event.
"Scouting can provide young people with so many opportunities and this is one of them," says Peter, a manager with the Cedar Foundation, a charity which helps the disabled. During their trip, the Northern Ireland Scouts will visit significant sites, including Hiroshima, where the first nuclear bomb was dropped during the Second World War.
Peter says the Japanese visit "promises to be the trip of a lifetime". He adds: "We will be visiting Hiroshima during the week of the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb; we are visiting Tokyo for three days, with visits to the 2011 Earthquake Centre and the Skytree Tower in the schedule, and we are showing Circular Football to the Scouting world at the international camp."
The Northern Irish Unit of the UK Scouts contingent is made up of 26 boys and 10 girls, between the ages of 14 and 17. The Jamboree occurs once every four years, and this year will have more than 30,000 people from more than 140 countries in attendance.
'Spirit of Unity' is the theme this year, with the Scouts taking part in a range of cultural activities.
Peter, who is heading the four-strong unit leader team, has Scouting in his blood. He joined the Cubs at eight and met his future wife, Julie, when she was working as a warden at their local camp in Bangor.
"I joined up 32 years ago and have not looked back," says Peter, who is due to take up the Scouts district commissioner role for North Down in September. "It has helped me be determined to do my best in everything I do. No half measures. Through Scouts, I have seen the world - USA, Canada, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Holland, Germany and now Japan.
‘It teaches you independence and discipline’
"Scouts are a family and it's wonderful to be able to share this experience with these young people and my three brilliant team leaders."
Sean Edmund Francis (16), a Copeland Explorer Unit member from Donaghadee, will carry the Union flag at the World Scout Jamboree 2015 in Japan 2015. He recently sat his GCSEs at Regent House Grammar School and is hoping to return into sixth form. He says:
I have been lucky enough to be selected from 4,000 other people to carry the Union flag in Japan at the closing ceremony for the UK. When I heard that piece of news, I really couldn't believe it, and to be honest, I probably won't until it actually happens. I just hope there are lots of pictures taken, so I can show my family when I get back home.
I was six when I started in the Beavers, along with my best friend Michael, and then progressed through the Cub Scouts, Scouts and now Explorer Scout sections.
I have also been a member of the 2nd Donaghadee Scout Troop, which meets in Donaghadee Presbyterian Church on Wednesdays. The troop has both boys and girls as members. I have been in Scouts for almost 12 years, and have made many good friends, some of whom are girls.
Scouts is not the place you will find romance, although there are a few exceptions. Scouts is about meeting new people and learning new skills.
We regularly do archery, backwoods cooking, survival skills and go on hikes, often in the Mourne Mountains.
We also have participated in rifle shooting, caving, rock climbing and camping. Of course, we also play games and enter tournaments competing against other Scout units.
Scouts teaches you to become independent, undertake practical problem solving, develop confidence in your abilities and to be disciplined in everything you do. I found these skills to be really useful in recent weeks while studying for my GCSEs.
Scouts has certainly toughened me up, but in all the right ways. As a Beaver, I heard about the experience of one of our older Scouts, who had attended the WSJ in Thailand, and I said to my mum that I was going to go to the Jamboree in Japan. She just smiled and said, "Yes Sean, you do that". At that time, I couldn't even stay a complete night at a sleepover at my friends - four houses down the street. This shows how much I have changed.
Some of my most memorable times in Cubs include being in Tipperary Wood camping for the weekend, where I learned how to cook over an open fire. In Scouts, perhaps the best times were when we went hiking without any leaders, such as on the Gold Award Expedition, when only three of us had to make our way to a venue.
The last year and a half has gone very quickly, with a lot of fundraising taking place. This has included many hours of bag-packing at supermarkets, a cake stall and a variety concert. My mum, dad, sister and I even abseiled down the Europa hotel in Belfast with the rest of Unit 62.
Friendships are fundamental to Scouting - without friendships, you cannot enjoy the things Scouts throw at you.
The best thing I'm looking forward to in Japan is the Jamboree itself, which is an opportunity to make new friends from around the world. It will be a life-changing experience and although I can't wait for it to happen, I know I won't want it to end either."
'My confidence has developed since joining'
Katy Mills (16) lives near Carryduff and goes to Friends' School, Lisburn. She joined 1st Carryduff Scouts at 11 with some of her neighbours, one of whom is joining her at the jamboree in Japan. She says:
Being away from home at the annual Scout camp and living in the great outdoors has really toughened me up over the years.
I have taken part in an amazing variety of activities, such as sailing and scavenger hunts, so when the opportunity came to go to a World Jamboree in Japan with thousands of Scouts from around the world, there was no stopping me going.
For the past two years, I have done some pet-sitting to help raise money for the trip, and since being selected for Japan, I have made so many new friends and met amazing people.
The Scouts has given me the opportunity to take part in so many different activities and learn new skills.
Through these activities, my sense of independence and confidence has really developed. Becoming a team player, learning how to look after yourself and to be confident in certain situations are all important aspects of being a Scout.
Now, I feel that I am part of a great team with Unit 62, and to go Japan with two of my best friends from Scouts makes it even better.
I'm really looking forward to making more new friends from other countries and experiencing Japanese culture. I can't wait."
‘I have even learned how to use chopsticks’
Callum McCloskey (17) is deputy head boy at Slemish College, Ballymena. He lives in Antrim with his parents, dad Ciaran and mum Sara, who is an assistant leader with 1st Muckamore Cub Pack. Callum is a member of the First Muckamore/Antrim Scouts district, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. He says:
If you need an onion chopped, a game organised, a map route to follow or a tent put up, I'm your man. I've learned all these skills as a Scout, and in preparation for the Jamboree, I have even learned how to use chopsticks and to speak a few words of Japanese.
I joined the Scouts from Squirrels when I was four and have chalked up 14 years' service. As an Explorer Scout, I meet up with my pack every two weeks and we can end up going anywhere and doing anything - karting, hiking, Belfast Giants games and camping. I also help on a weekly basis with my Group's Cub Pack.
At Scouts you have to be up for anything. I have learned many practical skills, like cooking and first aid. Scouts love the outdoors and I love camping, and being at the campfire. We regularly meet with a group of members of similar ages and all take part in different activities, which are decided and organised by the young people. It's a great time to catch up with old friends and have fun doing so.
Belonging to a worldwide organisation makes me very proud. I intend to become a leader when I turn 18 in September. I have learned so many skills which have helped me challenge myself and others to achieve goals and tasks, regardless of ability, race, religion or political views. I hope to inspire this in others.
I climbed Ben Nevis when I was a young Scout and I have never forgotten the sense of achievement. I attended my first International Jamboree, in Punchestown, Ireland, when I was nine. There were so many Scouts of all different ages all involved in the camp.
Waking up in a cold uncomfortable tent may seem unpleasant to others, but I have some very happy memories of that from Scout camps.
Last year, I saw an invite for Scouts to join an expedition to the Highlands in Scotland and I went with a group from Co Down and made lots of new friends.
You soon get to know each other when you're hiking together in a remote place.
Scouting can lead to romance sometimes. My Cub leader met her partner through Scouts - they holiday together every year by volunteering at Jamborees. My Scout leader also married a fellow scout and they even brought their baby to a Jamboree.
As part of the Jamboree, we'll visit Tokyo and also live with a host family for a few days for what scouts call Ho Ho (home hospitality). It's an opportunity to fully experience the Japanese culture."
‘It’s no longer a male-dominated organisation’
Jordan Leinster (17), from Ballymena, attends Ballymena Academy and is a member of 3rd Ballymena West Church Explorer Scouts. He says:
I met one of my heroes, Bear Grylls, thanks to the Scouts, albeit briefly, at a Scout camp in Bangor. That has been one of the highlights, as well as being selected to go to Japan for the 23rd World Scout Jamboree this year. I don't believe that Scouting has toughened me up, despite the fact I've won the troop's outdoor experience competitions twice, and district's first aid competition.
I do believe that it has prepared me better for life, work and social experiences. Scouts has taught me to have respect for people and different cultures. I've also learned practical outdoor skills such as map reading, camping, knot tying, cooking, canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling.
I started in the Beavers at six, which I enjoyed, progressing to the Cubs at eight. I moved into the Scouts at 10, and Explorer Scouts at 15.
My Scout group meets at 3rd Ballymena West Church, every Friday night during the school term.
We take part in lots of organised activities and camps throughout the year, doing activities such as go-karting, canoeing, orienteering, backwoods cooking, badge work, Chief Scout Awards, Queen Scout Awards and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
Since joining the Scouts, I have made lifelong friendships with people in the UK and Ireland, and with the World Jamboree, I will form more friendships within the Scouting fraternity.
Scouting has changed with the times - it's no longer a male-dominated organisation, and now has many female members. And given that the organisation has now brought together boys and girls with similar objectives and interests, romance can happen too."
The World Scout Jamboree takes place from next Tuesday, July 28 until Saturday, August 8. Visit www.scoutsni.com for more information