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GGYA updates skills of hiking supervisors, assessors

Their mission is to safeguard the integrity and reputation of the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA), protecting young persons on hiking expeditions where youths learn some of life’s biggest lessons in the least likely locations.

Over the weekend, adventurous journey supervisors and assessors participated in a workshop designed to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to deliver the section of the four-part program loved and dreaded in equal measure.

“This is the part of the program that attracts the young people. The aim is to encourage a spirit of adventure and discovery,” said Lawson Clarke, the former Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) marine who led the two-day training session.

From training and leading participants to conducting and assessing a qualifying venture, the short course ensures that the standard of the global Award, which operates in more than 130 countries and territories, is maintained locally.

Through developing transferable skills, increasing their fitness levels, volunteering in their communities and cultivating a sense of adventure, GGYA helps young people find their purpose, passion and place in the world.

During the adventurous journey component, supervisors are responsible for the unit’s safety. They must shadow groups, which means sticking close enough to prevent any dangerous, or potentially dangerous, actions during journeys. Qualifying expeditions last two days, one night for Bronze; three days, two nights for Silver; and four days and three nights for a Gold Award.

Supervisors are expected to make contact with their groups at least once a day.

Assessors also observe the group to judge their level of competency. They’re the ones to approve that requirements are met.

In some areas, however, standards have been slipping.

“The young people haven’t been trained up to the standard that we would like. There are three areas of concern,” said Clarke. “The main one is footwear. Somehow, overnight, people stopped wearing boots. Now you see Crocs, slippers, tennis shoes. The next area is food – by one o’ clock in the day, everybody has crashed. The third area is clothing – short shorts, jean pants and short tights for females have taken over the program, which leads to injuries. Tight-fitting clothes press onto the pulse. As your body temperature rises and you start to exert more, it changes the rhythm of your heartbeat and that can lead to injuries.”

David Thompson came onboard the program last September as a supervisor for Jack Hayward Senior High School. The hospitality and tourism teacher had noticed participants were not eating a nutritious breakfast.

“They eat snacks before going out,” he said. “Moving forward, breakfast will be something I enforce more. I know how to cook outdoors. During their practices I’ve given them pointers on how to cook over an open fire. It’s just a matter of ensuring they execute.”

With 32 years of experience under its belt, GGYA knows regular introductory and refresher training opportunities for adult mentors prevent the program from moving backwards in its development.

“This training ensures that we are all on the same page whether in Andros, New Providence, Guyana or Guatemala,” said Earthlyn Pratt, a business studies teacher at Huntley Christie High School in North Andros. In high school, he went as far as his Silver Award.

Fresh off a Bronze practice expedition overseeing 27 young people, the assessor found the weekend refresher course valuable for all.

As today’s youths set out to find their place in the world, equipping them with skills and confidence and helping them to find their potential has never been more important.

The idea behind the adventurous journey is to spirit youths away from their comfort zone and, if possible, habitation. All team members must plan and prepare for the trip where youths must fit everything they need for an expedition into a rucksack as they journey in groups of four to seven persons and pass or fail together.

The exception is if a participant was unable to complete the exercise due to sickness or injury.

“The aim is for participants to utilize enterprise and imagination, exercise forethought, undertake preparatory training, practice a sense of shared responsibility, show determination in execution and in the aftermath produce a reflective report of their experience,” said Clarke.

“We want to get away from planning the whole expedition for young people. You have to place them in an environment so they can create an experience and have something to reflect on. They need to be away from people which provides a certain level of comfort. Every time the group sees you, it diminishes the challenge. They feel more safe and secure and not as they should – that they are in it on their own.”

The more developed The Bahamas becomes, isolating the young people on adventurous journeys is proving difficult to do. GGYA is running out of remote, challenging places to explore since some less developed islands have been ruled out due to high transportation costs.

During expeditions, youths must use maps and compasses; know how to pitch a tent; pack or prepare lightweight, high-energy food; and basically be able to survive out in the wilds, thus becoming more self-sufficient.

The course covered planning and implementation of the adventurous journey for participants; mapwork and land navigation; and safety and emergency procedures, among other areas.

In years past, the program only had to worry about asthma patients, but now more youths are afflicted with hypertension and diabetes, the facilitator said.

“You have to be aware of who has what,” said Clarke. “The office is here to give you confidence that you can manage the risk.”

Other safety precautions of the Award program include hiking along coastline and sandy beaches early in the day, not undertaking unnatural routes, having an alternative route in case of bad weather, starting early in the day, selecting possible escape routes in advance and choosing camp sites with relatively easy access, in case of an emergency.

There’s even a strict protocol for tending injuries and fetching help since splitting up a group is considered a drastic step and certain procedures must be followed.

“The training is helping me to better be able to assist the participants in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s Rangers program,” said Leading Woman Marine Karia Smith, a supervisor for the Rangers involved in GGYA. “It builds their confidence as well as mine.”

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