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An Aussie at Kandersteg
After the success of the first World Scout Jamboree in England in 1920, when the UK was on a post-war high and anything was possible, Baden-Powell had a dream: “Why can’t this go on forever, a sort of permanent Jamboree?”
After a series of fortunate, and almost unlikely events, the dream of a World Scout Centre was realised. My job, along with the other 160+ staff that rotate through here each year, is to continue to realise this dream.
Tucked away high in the Swiss Alps is Kandersteg International Scout Centre. Every year more than 12,000 Scouts from all around the world visit to take part in more than 140 program activities, most of them guided by other Scouts from all the corners of the globe.
Baden Powell’s dream was not only for this permanent mini Jamboree to exist, it was for Scouts to come here and live their dream. Whether it be climbing a mountain, making new international friendships, or learning and experiencing new things, they could come to Kandersteg and do it.
The marketing slogans for the Centre take full advantage of this and encourage Scouts to “come and live dream” and “experience the magic” and, as cheesy as these are, they are remarkably true. I am now on my third contract here at the Centre, drawn back each time by the magic of place, and yes, I am living my dream.
Just like a Jamboree, the friendships are easy and long lasting and the atmosphere electric. I live up high in the mountains where the air is fresh, the food healthy and my lifestyle active. I ride my bike to work, go hiking or skiing on my days off, depending on the weather, and all within two minutes of my front door.
My current flat mates are from the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka and Kenya and I work in an office with four other staff from Ireland, Canada, Finland and South Africa, and party all night long with staff and guests from literally every corner of the globe.
My first position at the Centre was as a volunteer member of the Short Term Staff. Short Term Staff come to Kandersteg for a three-month season (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and work in all areas of the centre – Program, Kitchen, Laundry, Administration etc. After this I was a Snow and Ice glacier guide for the Centre, running exclusively the Snow and Ice programme during the Summer months, and now I am the Assistant Programme Director, where I help the 12,000 guests per year get the most out of their stay by coordinating and managing all the activities run at the Centre, training the staff to run them, managing the operations of the department as well as ensuring that all of this is done safely and smoothly.
The most common question I get asked about my job here in Kandersteg is what I have learnt, or what I have gained from my experience. Not only have I learnt to swear in lots of different languages, appreciate cultural differences on a scale unknown to humanity and to drive on the wrong side of the road, I have learnt that no matter which side of the world, which country, which Scout association you come from, Scouting means something different to everyone. Everyone brings something different to the permanent Jamboree, and everyone leaves with an understanding of something else.
This always comes to haunt me when I’m addressing a meeting or conference with members from organisations such as the World Scout Bureau or a WOSM regional office or another NGO. What does Scouting mean to me, and how does what I‘m talking about or listening to affect Scouting for me? For me, no matter what I do on the other side of the world, it still means hanging out with my Venturer crew and having a good laugh, turning the weekend into a long weekend and getting out to the bush and climbing a mountain, sitting around the fire and talking till the sun rises. This is what creates the magic of Kandersteg – the confluence of everyone’s Scouting ideas into one place.
When my contract ends here in Switzerland, someone else will take over to ensure that the magic continues, to ensure that Baden-Powell’s dream is realised, and hopefully also to ensure that Australia, as well as the Asia-Pacific Region has a say at the World Scout Centre.
The most important thing for us, as Australians, is to ensure that we are well represented. The easiest way is to make sure we keep sending staff to the Centre (www.kiscstaff.ch), and when the time comes, there is money for the tiny Australian room to be renovated. In the mean time, I encourage all of the Scouts out there to get into international Scouting – the exchange of culture, of ideas and of friendships will truly enhance your view of Scouting and of the world. I think it is apt that the theme of the next World Scout Jamboree in Sweden 2011 is ’Simply Scouting’ as after all, that is why we’re all here.
By Andrew Cooper, Assistant Program Director at Kandersteg International Scout Centre and a Rover at 1st Balwyn (June 2009)
Thanks to Australian Scout magazine for providing the text and photos for this story.