I have been accused a few times recently of being a Scout Nerd and I quite happily confess it to be true.
Back in 2015 I was honoured to be chosen as a representative for Scouts New Zealand to the Asia Pacific Regional Scout Youth Forum and Conference, which opened up my eyes to the strategic elements of scouting at a global level.
Since then I've taken on a bunch more challenges in this space, including most recently the World Scout Youth Forum and Conference in Azerbaijan!
I left from Manchester airport, after visiting my grandfather and due to some fun scheduling I had to spend the night in the airport (budget travel is luxurious!) So we were off to an interesting start already!
I then managed to miss my connecting flight in Paris due to a mishap with my flight not being able to check me in... But they rescheduled me and after an inconvenient but mildly amusing stop in Russia I arrived in Baku at 4am.
Of course I had my trusty keep cup and water bottle with me the whole way so I could reduce my waste. It's so simple and I can't even imagine how many plastic cups I've managed to avoid on airplanes alone! (And they give you more too, so that's always good!)
It was also SERIOUSLY hot (33-42 degrees every day and really high humidity, even my Mexican and Namibian friends were struggling!), so I'm really glad I had these to keep my water intake up!
I met up with the rest of my wonderful kiwi delegation -
And we dove in to 5 days of full on workshops, amazing speakers, and dreaming of making scouting as wide reachingly positive as it can be through the World Scout Youth Forum!
Scouts from around the world discussed the challenges they faced in their countries, as well as sharing the amazing pieces of work they've done in areas such as peace, integration of refugees, and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
|Lucie, the Czech scout from this iconic photo talked to us about the meaning of being an active citizenship. She was absolutely brilliant.|
The forum aimed to be carbon neutral, and there were all kinds of activities for us to learn about sustainability. At one point we were asked to calculate our carbon footprint... Mine is terrible. It's all the flying. I really need to get better about finding alternatives, but living in an island at the bottom of the world doesn't lend itself to many other options. I'll still try to work on it.
Scouting has also just committed to working towards focusing our energies on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, so lots of discussion went into this. It's so inspiring to know that millions of young people around the world will be working towards ending poverty in my movement, all wearing scarves like mine.
An interesting discovery in Azerbaijan is that they don't seem to have many vegetarians... I've been avoiding meat for a while now and can usually find a way to make it happen pretty easily, however this was not the case in Azerbaijan. Several meals consisted of only tomato, cucumber and maybe a bit of cheese, so if you're vegetarian and thinking of visiting any time soon I'd recommend doing your research on where you can eat!
The forum left us all exhausted, but feeling enthused, and we had a couple of days off before the Conference started. An 'interevent' took us to beaches and old towns, and even included a surprise paint party!
It was so nice to relax and cool down at the beach after so much heat, and we spent a lot of time blobbing in the shade and napping.
The conference was held in Baku in one of the most fascinating buildings I've had the pleasure of working in, the Baku Congress Center.
It was surrounded by tall stone buildings, which were somewhere between looking Parisian and functionally Soviet...
|Seen here behind one of the many old beat up cars that trundle their way around Azerbaijan.|
As per usual, everything ran over time, and there were many unexpected challenges for us to tackle. The main one that I worked on being the e-voting system failing on the first voting day so we had to manually count all the votes.
|My team were pretty bad ass in their uniforms.|
There was almost no time to explore during the conference, but as we decided to have breakfast in town each day we did get to see parts of the more beautiful side of Baku -
And we formed some wonderful relationships with people from all around the world in our spare time (ok, usually lunch time while shoveling food into our mouths).
In the evenings a few activities were planned, including a cultural night, where countries presented foods and drinks and games from their homes. South Korea even brought in Ban Ki-moon (ex secretary general of the United Nations)! He is a Scout, so it makes sense.
And I made friends with some of the ferocious wildlife that roams the city. Honestly, Azerbaijan is just full of cats!
I even got to fulfill my lifelong goal of jumping in a taxi and telling the driver 'just follow that car!' when we went off to dinner one night.
Which was in a pretty gorgeous location!
The conference finished as abruptly as it started and I was left still buzzing with a renewed sense of awe over the wonderful, impactful movement I have the privilege of being part of.
I caught up with old friends, and made many new ones who I can't wait to visit one day.
After the conference my friend Ross and I had one last day free to actually explore Baku. It's a fascinating city with a long history and if you are ever in the area the old town is well worth a visit.
Try some of the local sweets, like baklava and the nut candies, but remember to take your water bottle because it's stinking hot all the time.
|Look at that sweaty, red face! So. Hot.|
Azerbaijan is definitely not a country I would have visited had I not been attending the conference, but I'm glad I did. It has some fascinating history, incredibly friendly people, and gorgeous architecture.
Well, that's all for now! Stay tuned for a new blog soon on my 48 hours in Istanbul!
See you somewhere!
Labels: Azerbaijan, Baku, budget travel, carry on luggage, conference, forum, international, scout conference, scouting, Scouts, SDGs, travel, UN, United Nations, wanderlust, youth forum