Exuma was calling and 57 participants, including two from St. Lucia, looking to complete a level of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, answered the call.
The Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA), the local office which delivers the internationally recognized program, hosted its Bahamas Award Super Expedition (BASE) for the first time since 2019. The annual mega event provides participants from across the nation with an opportunity to explore new frontiers in this archipelagic nation, push their limits, and learn from both their successes and their mistakes.
Under the theme, Treasures of the Cays, the 10-day adventure saw the young people, accompanied by 26 adult volunteers, make the 15-hour voyage to George Town aboard the M/V Carib Warrior.
Following their arrival and opening ceremony, they began readying themselves for an adventure in a new and unfamiliar setting. Team-building exercises were held, first-aid and emergency procedures reviewed, routes planned, equipment checked and backpacking techniques perfected.
Gold participants left BASE headquarters at L.N. Coakley High School in Moss Town. They were followed by Silver, and Bronze.
“These last four days have not been an easy journey,” said Kevaughn Neely. The Gold participant from C.V. Bethel Senior High School experienced several bumps in the road. He skipped breakfast on the first day, suffered from a bout of heat exhaustion and wounded both his toe and foot after tripping over a tree stump.
“I persevered and I toiled through it. It’s a relief that I am finished.”
The international award is designed to provide a balanced program of personal development and challenge. Prior to the Exuma trip, participants first had to complete a minimum period of engagement in three sections – physical fitness, community service and skills.
Whether pursuing a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award, there are adventurous journeys (hiking requirements) for each level: two-days/one-night, with a minimum of six hours of activity per day for Bronze; three-days/two nights, with a minimum of seven hours of activity per day for Silver; and four-days/three-nights, with a minimum of eight hours of activity per day for Gold.
At the highest award level, there is a Gold Residential Project where youths carry out meaningful work via a community service initiative.
“I think we can take a few pages out of GGYA’s book when it comes to the level of organization in camping,” said Robert Thomas, a St. Lucia native who works with the Duke of Edinburgh Award in the capital, Castries.
“All-in-all, they did a marvelous job. Everything happened the way it was supposed to occur.”
Thomas brought two participants, one Gold and one Silver, to experience the super expedition.
“Since COVID, we have not hiked for two years. The Bahamas is the only island [nation] with a consistent, active program going on right now. We hope to start to kick off our own program, which caters to 250 students across five schools in Castries. Our hope is that the two young people who came to BASE could help to spread the word.”
For Thomas, the take-away is perhaps it’s time for St. Lucia to have a go at hosting an inter-island expedition in partnership with Duke of Edinburgh Award operators in the Windward Islands – Dominica, St. Vincent and Grenada.
“I’m trying to get those people on board to determine whether we can put on an expedition … find out if it’s feasible. I think if we take one year to discuss it and try to work it out, I think we can get it done,” he said.
“This experience helped to foster good relations between our territories. I think that’s one of the things that is lacking within the program in the Caribbean.”
BASE 2022 was a larger event than its 2019 predecessor which saw 37 youths travel to Long Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.
The annual gathering aims to broaden the experience of young people through living and working with others they’ve not met before.
“We learned how to cooperate. We learned each other’s differences. We learned how to get along,” said Kevin Jean, a participant from The Beacon School in Grand Bahama.
“I would advise anybody who wants to take this hike on to have fun. In GGYA, it takes a group effort.”