It was a transformative weekend for 35 participants in the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA) who successfully completed their Silver qualifying hike in Eleuthera, the first out-of-town expedition hosted by the youth organization since the onset of the pandemic two years ago.
Government’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions allowed GGYA to accommodate a larger number of persons on the trip with mask mandates, social distancing and sanitizing enforced. Also helping to make the journey possible, Doctors Hospital provided PCR tests at GGYA’s office to participants and adult supervisors.
“I had some anxieties about the first adventurous journey off island since the pandemic began. There were many moving parts,” said national director, Jacquetta Lightbourne-Maycock, who assumed leadership of the international award program in late 2020.
This trip marked the first time she oversaw an entire journey on her own.
“The weather was favorable. Everything created a perfect environment for participants to successfully complete the three-day, two-night expedition. Along the way, they visited blue holes and explored a cave. Despite the challenges involved, they were able to pivot just as they will have to do in life. It speaks volume to the discipline and determination of these young people.”
The event ran from March 18–20. Participants from Queen’s College (QC), C.C. Sweeting, R.M. Bailey and one member of the 23rd Company of the Boys’ Brigade attended.
For many of them, their award journey began during the pandemic. They registered for the program, completed requirement for their Bronze Award six months later and commenced the requirements for the Silver Award.
On Friday, the group departed from New Providence aboard the Island Link and arrived in Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera four hours later to begin the 30-mile hike that would qualify them to obtain their Silver Award.
From Hatchet Bay, the group was transported to Rock Sound, the expedition’s starting point. They camped out at Rock Sound Primary School.
On the second day, Saturday, they hiked along Northshore Road for roughly five miles, then onto Madeira Road and into Winding Bay. From there, they traveled to Tarpum Bay and camped at the primary school. The trek is designed to test their mettle.
“My lowest point is at the end of the day when everyone is really tired and you have to get your fire together and cook,” said Jada Jimenez, a 12th-grade student at QC.
Her classmate, Ravaro Underwood, sees things differently.
“Mealtime is the highpoint. Frustration sets in when the sun is blazing really hot,” he said.
“Sometimes, you question why am I doing this and what’s the real purpose. The real purpose is to find out how strong you are, more so mentally than physically. A lot of it is mind over matter. How hard can you really push yourself and do the best your body can do in those circumstances? There are endless things that could go wrong but we still manage to push through.”
On Sunday, the group hiked the main road from Tarpum Bay to Windermere Island’s entrance, wrapping up their journey. They were transported back to Hatchet Bay to catch the boat to New Providence.
“The hiking experience from my Bronze Award really helped,” said C.C. Sweeting 11th-grade student Prishae Smith in her assessment of the expedition. “I packed better … lighter, even though it was more nights.”
C.C. Sweeting’s 11-strong, all-female unit had a grueling Bronze Award experience, particularly Prishae, who, during the hike, didn’t think she would endure or even return to the program. With every step she took, she reasoned, “If I could get through this, I can make it through anything,” and she was right.
The second time around, the adventurous journey didn’t get any easier.
“On day two, everything was wrong with me,” she said. “I had a headache. I hurt my ankle. I had cuts all over from the bushes, but it was good. It was a new island, new experience. It was fun, altogether.”
When you’re mixing with people from diverse backgrounds in challenging situations and learning to work together as a team, C.C. Sweeting’s 11th-grade student Devonique Johnson said it’s important “to get your mind right”.
“You have to train yourself and keep a positive mind for a program like this. Did I want to give up? Yes. But I was motivated, and I helped to motivate others in my group to keep going.”
The GGYA has a saying, “There is more in you than you think.” For many, the four-mile stretch of
coastline they traversed on Saturday drove the point home.
“The beaches we were walking on weren’t well travelled, so the sand wasn’t compacted. Every time we stepped, we sunk in and our 25-pound bags added to the weight. If you’re a heavy person, you just sank through the sand,” recalled Samuel Sherman, a 12th-grade student at R.M. Bailey.
Still, behind every dark cloud came a silver lining.
“The food that day was the best. After you spent so long in the hot sun, everything tasted good. It didn’t matter if it was burnt. It just tasted good,” said Samuel.
He credits the journey with building relationships with those who walked beside him.
“I made a lot of friends from different schools that I most definitely, without a doubt, would not have even spoken to if I did not come on this hike. With this large variety of people, we really got to connect and bond through this experience,” he said.
“With the pandemic and the closing of school, you only got to talk to the contacts you had in your phone. You weren’t making any new friends. Sometimes it felt stagnant. This program takes a lot of work. It’s very physical and there’s no beating around the bush about that, but I really want to continue with it. I can’t guarantee that it’s going to happen right away, but I plan on going for Gold.”
What it takes
GGYA offers three awards from the globally recognized Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Each level requires an increasing commitment of time.
A global framework for nonformal education and learning, the GGYA challenges young people to dream big, celebrate their achievements and make a difference in their world.
To achieve the Bronze Award, participants are required to engage in three months of physical recreation, skill development and community service. Plus, an additional three months in any one of those areas. Participants must also produce a diary of their activities and undertake a two-day/one-night adventurous journey covering 15 miles.
Once the Bronze Award is achieved, to become eligible for Silver, participants must complete six months minimum of each of the three aforementioned areas. Participants must once again produce a diary and complete an adventurous journey lasting three days and two nights, hiking for a minimum of 30 miles.