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Jeux sans frontieres

When 10,000 Scouts from across Europe set up camp in a Chelmsford park this summer, one mighty cultural exchange took place.

Yojana Sharma watches the fun and games

For 12 days this summer, Hylands Park in Chelmsford, Essex, was taken over by 10,000 Scouts and Guides. They came from all over Europe and beyond, turning the park into the largest youth gathering in the UK for half a century.

With more than 40 countries represented at EuroJam, which ran from July 29 to August 10, the massive jamboree showed that there's more to Scouting than singing around campfires and bob-a-jobbing. Having fun together is a great way to break down cultural and linguistic barriers, and the 'Jam's Europe Day proved to be a colourful and informal educational experience for all concerned.

The morning kicked off with a celebration of the world's religions - Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity. "Europe is not just about different nations but different religions as well," says physics teacher and Scout leader Neil Commons, from Leeds.

The afternoon served up a European food festival. Tasty bite-sized offerings were prepared by each national Scout group, using only the camp's basic cooking facilities. The delicate pastries in the Viennese coffee tent proved very popular, as were the Swiss rosti (pancakes) and the Finnish and Swedish smorgasbords on offer elsewhere.

"What's in it?" was a phrase heard in many languages across the park, as was, "How do you make this?". But what really brought down the cultural barriers was the afternoon's set of "special challenges", which required participants to work together regardless of nationality.

Finnish Scouts - in their stylish uniform with ultra-cool swimming-cap-style hats - were seen peddling alongside the more traditionally uniformed Hungarians for the generator challenge. Teams sweated to keep stationary bikes going to generate sufficient power to illuminate a huge display board.

Over in the Fountain of Life tent, participants employed different receptacles and communication methods to move water from a lower pool back to a higher pool from where it continuously cascaded in a variety of waterfalls. Any slacking off by the teams could stop the fountain - and "life" itself.

Elsewhere in the huge park, thousands of plastic bricks were commandeered to build "friendship bridges". A drumming challenge was kept up all afternoon in another tent, using drums and non-musical objects including pots and pans, and potato peelers as sticks. Participants took up the rhythm and kept it going with flourishes, leading into a new beat for the next Scout to take over and maintain without a break in the "Rhythm of life".

"I've found new friends," said Lene Jensen, 16, from Denmark, as she worked her way through the challenges."I could not have done this in school." Her comment was echoed by many of the assembled Scouts, who relished the opportunity to practise their language skills and engage in large-scale activities that are not possible in class.

For the duration of the jamboree, Europe was divided into six regions. The six resulting "Eurovilles" which sprang up around the site provided an insight into different lifestyles and cultures through sports, games, crafts and other hands-on activities. The northern Euroville offered visitors the chance to do a spot of Viking tin casting, while the Baltic states' Euroville hosted a Latvian "wife carrying" race - minus the traditional prize of the wife's weight in beer for the winners.

The favourite activity, by popular vote, was Irish dancing. "I really enjoyed the Euroville where we sang Irish songs and learned Irish dancing, I also did a quiz about Austria," says Solange Collet, 16, from Switzerland. "I think schools should do more activities to unite pupils across the age ranges, things the whole school can participate in. What you do does not matter, what matters is that you talk to people you would not normally talk to."

Others enjoyed Spanish flamenco dancing or attempted to follow Scottish reels. Liga Beinorovia, 15, from Latvia wants to become an actress and was enthralled by the Italians' activity which focused on the development of the theatre. "We were shown the traditional characters and asked to repeat how they would act," she explains. "I learned a lot about body language and how to show your feelings without speaking."

Other strange and wonderful games included Swiss wrestling and Danish snail-racing. "We had to think of games that are easy to share and to explain through showing not speaking," says Giancarlo Lagio, 16, from Italy. He learned about cricket while teaching a variation on Palio, Italy's heraldic game, to Scouts from Cornwall. "We were pretty bad at cricket," he confesses cheerfully.

All agree they have made firm friends across Europe. "It is harder at school to meet people from all parts of the world as we do here at EuroJam," says Fabio Formisano, 14, from Italy. "We should be able to do this all the time, not just once a year or once every few years."

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