M iles of white-sand beaches, stunning cliffs, idyllic ocean views and an historic lighthouse were the rewards for 57 youths for their decision to lace-up their hiking boots and embark on a three to four-day journey backpacking South Eleuthera over the mid-term break.
Over four days, the young people unplugged from distractions and connected with the world around them while working on the second and third level of the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA). It entailed covering a minimum of 25 miles for those pursuing the Silver Award and at least 37 miles for those on the Gold qualifying hike.
From developing social and leadership skills to improving confidence, participants from four units stepped out of their comfort zone to take advantage of personal growth opportunities.
“I would have had a boring mid-term break, but with GGYA, I was able to go and explore Eleuthera with some friends and have a good experience meeting new people,” said C.V. Bethel senior, Indira Rolle.
From planning to execution, each young person works to ensure that the adventurous journeys run as smoothly as possible; still, even the best plans experience hiccups.
“We had a boy who lagged a bit. We tied a rope around him, and so, everyone took a turn pulling him and making sure he kept up with the rest of us; we couldn’t leave him behind,” said Rolle, a Silver Award aspirant.
Her schoolmate, Zurial Carey, had to step-up even further. As group leader, it was his job to organize and figure out the abilities and needs of the seven-strong team.
Aside from taking turns towing the participant who lagged, he also had to assist another with their bag.
“We had a long pole and the person couldn’t carry their bag. I guess they overpacked, so we had to get a huge stick. I had to put my bag on one end, their bag on another end and carry both,” said Carey, a Gold participant.
“I didn’t have to carry it for too long, maybe for an hour or so; sometimes that happens.”
By no means was this his first challenging situation on a GGYA hike.
During his first trip to Eleuthera as a Bronze level participant, Carey and his team took a wrong turn onto a beach.
“Some other groups followed us. We ended up climbing up over limestone rocks. It was on the coastline with a lot of waves crashing onto the rocks. It started raining and it felt like an adventure, like a movie. It was exhilarating. I loved that part,” he recalled.
“The other groups behind us were confused. We had to help them. We had to get away from that area and look at our map again. After a while, you realize you’re going the wrong way. The assessors came looking for us, but by the time they found us we were already getting back on track.”
It’s what GGYA is all about – trying, perhaps failing, rebounding and ultimately achieving personal success.
The program taught Dana Morrison, an 11th grade student at Aquinas College, how to embrace challenges.
“In sports, I am not athletically inclined. On this hike, it was about possessing the perseverance and determination to complete it. I just needed to have the mindset to finish it. I felt like I didn’t have to be this sports person to love the outdoors,” she said.
“It takes a lot of motivation to complete these hikes, so when you do that, it inspires you to do other things in your life as well. GGYA gives you the motivation to do bigger and better things; positivity is the key.”
For Silver level participant, Dariq Chase, the trip not only provided the opportunity to connect with friends he hadn’t seen since he was a small child living on Harbour Island, but also a much-needed respite from the pressures of schoolwork.
“It’s a time to let loose because I’m doing a lot. Sometimes, when I get home I go straight to sleep. I don’t have time to unwind, so the hike serves as a time to relax with my friends, not really think about work. When we’re not hiking, we talk, and we laugh, and we reminisce. It helps me to let loose and let go of all the stress I’ve accumulated,” said the soccer playing, 4.0 GPA, 11th grade student, who’s taking BGCSEs this year.
“Bronze was fairly difficult. I was thinking about not continuing but I decided to continue to Silver. It’s a decision that I certainly don’t regret. It’s a program that I really love, and I am seriously considering doing Gold next year.”
Not everyone is attracted to GGYA for the same reason, like Queen’s College 11th grade student Amari McKinney.
“I lost my father in September. He was a hiking person. He always liked to go in the bush, so that was one of my reasons to do it as well. It helped me to be a little closer to him over the weekend,” she said.
The participants’ route started in Bannerman Town in the south and, after three days of hiking, ended in Rock Sound at the Ocean Hole Park.
Camping at Lighthouse Point, at the tip of Eleuthera toward the southeast end of the island, was the highlight of the trip.