August 17, 2018
They came from across the Caribbean, 73 youths forced into close contact by a grueling hiking expedition – a shared odyssey that gave birth to a connection.
The 39th edition of the Caribbean Award Sub Regional Council (CASC) Adventurous Journey wrapped up Thursday night (August 9) with a closing ceremony at basecamp, otherwise known as St John’s College.
Although the two-week event for Gold level participants in the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award has come and gone, attendees say – for varying reasons – it will not soon be forgotten.
“It certainly was a life-changing experience,” admits Tenille Ramsawak, a 17-year-old Trinidadian.
The trip to The Bahamas, first to New Providence and later Cat Island, proved to be an eye-opener for the teen exposing her not just to one, but to seven other cultures from throughout the Caribbean through interactions with members of a 138-strong contingent made up of participants, staff and leaders-in-training.
“This was an entirely different playground. I learnt a lot about myself and others. Being placed into a group to work together for a stressful four days really strengthens your resolve, positioning you to better face challenges and adversity,” said Ramsawak who was surprised at how quickly the four-day camping trip flew by.
Short but impactful, the adventurous journey lit a fire.
“I definitely will remain involved in the programme after receiving my Gold Award. I’ve been in this programme since 2014 and I’ve learnt a whole lot,” said Ramsawak. “I really want to share my experiences and pass it on to other youths, not only from Trinidad and Tobago but the entire Caribbean.”
The Gold level's starting age is 16. The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award (our Governor General’s Youth Award) highest award level takes a minimum of 12 months for Silver recipients who have developed a skill, provided a service and participated in physical recreation and adventurous journeys.
The qualifying expedition for the Gold Award entails four days and three nights of hiking and camping. For this grouping that event kicked off when their boat docked on Cat Island on Thursday, August 2. So, began their journey.
“I was expecting the worse and the worse came about, but I was able to navigate my way through it,” said 17-year-old Jardel Lambert, St Lucia’s only participant.
A no-frills camping trip, the grouped cautiously navigated jagged, honey comb rocks, trudged up Mount Alvernia (The Bahamas’ highest peak), slept under the stars and high-stepped their way through soft pink sand along Cat Island’s shorelines under an unrelenting sun toting about 30 percent of their body weight in a rucksack laden with the necessary supplies for the duration of their exploration.
“There were times I wanted to quit but I just pressed on and that satisfaction was very rewarding,” said 17-year-old Conor Sinclair of Bermuda.
That’s the thing about this International Award programme that engages 1.3 million youths in 130 countries and territories across the globe, it forces participants to dig deep whether they are shoring up their resolve to tackle the daunting course ahead or delving into a new friendship. From the depths of a challenge, comradery emerges.
“I love how we all came together and worked as one,” said Bahamian participant, Dashanique Martin, a rising twelfth grader at C.V. Bethel High who met many of her fellow participants for the first time on Saturday, July 28, at CASC’s first event – a welcome reception held at Government House.
“We had to bond quickly and learn to work as a team,” said the 17-year-old, who along with her fellow participants spent two days at the start of CASC mapping out a route before engaging in fun team-building activities that included a treasure hunt. “The group setting made it easier to endure,” said Martin. “You had others watching your back and you felt you could depend upon them if something were to happen.”
Participants like Saamiya Cumberbatch made connections she would have never made otherwise.
“I was very out of my element,” said the 20-year-old Barbadian who confessed she came from a somewhat privileged background. Joining the International Award Programme, she had to get used to roughing it – fast.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished something on my own, for myself and it doesn’t feel like it’s something small. It feels like it is something spectacular,” she said. “It’s the final level of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Programme. It feels like a huge achievement.”
Still, Elizabeth Bennnett, a 17-year-old from Cayman is quick to note this programme is for the brave, or, at the very least, those who aspire to be courageous.
“This is not for the faint of heart,” said Bennett who made the trek with older brother, Ernest, who is also a Gold participant. “Be prepared to stretch yourself.”
Michael Gittens echoed similar sentiments, stressing the Award is geared towards youths who yearn for a challenge and an opportunity to embrace new experiences.
“I’ve learnt a lot in pursuit of the Award, said the 18-year-old Guyanese. “I’ve enhanced my outdoor skills and knowledge. I’ve learnt to swim, picked up a new language, Spanish, and I’ve also improved my cooking skills. I’m grateful for all that.”
For solo adventurer, St Lucia’s Lambert the journey was just as important as the final destination, that of self-discovery.
“As the sole St Lucia participant, I came by myself. To meet new people and to come together as a team all from different backgrounds and cultures, recognizing each other’s limitation, it taught me how much one can achieve when working together towards a common goal,” he said. “In the end, the Award helped build me up. I’m a stronger and more confident person.”
GGYA CASC Participants, from left to right, Jardel Lambert, St. Lucia; Michael Gittens, Guyana; Tenille Ramsawak, Trinidad; Conor Sinclair, Bermuda; Saamiya Cumberbatch, Barbados; Dashanique Martin, The Bahamas; Elizabeth Bennett, Cayman Islands.