August 30, 2021
With two school years disrupted and bored of learning remotely, Prishae Smith joined the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA) to get out of the house and reconnect with friends at C.C. Sweeting Senior High School.
What the rising eleventh grader didn’t sign up for, were the falls, tears and headaches associated with a 15-mile hike and overnight camping trip.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a simple hike, a simple walk around Nassau, but it wasn’t that at all. The happiest point for me was when it was all over and my brother pulled up and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I never thought I’d missed him that much. As soon as I sat down in his car, I fell asleep and that was one of the best sleep I ever had,” the 15-year-old recalled.
“This was the second most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but I really wanted that Bronze Award. I wanted to feel accomplished. I didn’t want to be a quitter. I wanted to make myself proud and I did. As much as I hate to say it, I want the Silver and the Gold. I want my Certificate of Achievement to say I finished GGYA. I’m not going to quit.”
The Governor General’s Youth Award helps young people find their purpose, passion and place in the world. It is the local branch of the UK-based Duke of Edinburgh Award, a global programme that takes at least six months to finish the first level, Bronze. Success in the Award is measured by regular participation over a fixed period of time while showing commitment and progress in each area of activity.
Designed to be an enriching experience, participants must fulfill requirements in voluntary service, skills and physical recreation. Then, there’s the hiking expedition. Also known as an “adventurous journey,” this section encourages a sense of adventure and self-discovery in a group setting.
On Saturday, August 21, 11 participants in C.C. Sweeting’s 13-strong unit hit the road, backpacking from Epic Battery on Fire Trail to Gladstone Road then into Adelaide and back over the course of two days. They camped out on private property near the beach. They were accompanied by their unit leader Edwin Johnson, schoolteacher Lezelye Sands, GGYA’s national director, Jacquetta Lightbourne-Maycock and three other adults.
“At first, what kept me going was I really wanted to make it to the camp site. I wanted to cook over an open fire, play some games and watch the talent show. I looked forward to doing those things,” said Smith, the participant.
“On the return trip, I just wanted to see my mommy’s face again. I wanted to eat some home cooked food and I wanted to sleep in my bed and be comfortable. I just wanted to get this over with.”
The hiking experience wasn’t the same for everyone.
Sixteen-year-old Tonique Simmons has been a cadet with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Ranger since seventh grade. She went on similar hikes twice before.
“The backpack made it feel longer, but the adventurous journey was fun and tiring at the same time.”
For Simmons, one of the trip’s highlights was crossing a creek in Adelaide which leads into Coral Harbour. Typically, the water is about knee high and not overly challenging. On this trek, strong currents and chest high waters meant the girls got fully drenched.
“Going through the water was the best part for me. My muscles were tight and for me the cold water helped with the pain.”
Along the journey participants took note of coastal ecosystems, mangroves and different bird species.
On Saturday, August 28, the girls gathered at their school to dissect the trip over pizza and sodas.
“How was the experience for you all?” asked Ms Sands, the school’s business teacher who volunteers with the unit.
She received a barrage of answers.
"It was a challenge, difficult but fun."
"Someone took all my snacks."
"I don't know we were going that far."
"Felt like I was going to die walking through those bushes."
"When we were coming back, I started to cry because I was hungry."
There was only one thing upon which all participants agreed.
“Was it what you expected?” asked Ms Sands.
The reply, a resounding, “No” from everyone and a burst of spontaneous laughter. The weekend assessment revealed areas where the unit excelled – decision making, problem solving and teamwork – and those in need of improvement, such as food rationing, packing and hiking endurance.
Eleventh grader Tanisha Thompson wish she’d heeded the advice her father gave.
“I had some extra clothes and a large towel I could have left home like my dad said,” the 15-year-old noted. “After I told my dad I was tired and felt like I wasn’t going to make it. He said if we had starting walking together, I would have been ready for it. We’re going to start walking to get ready for Silver.”
The trip was a success story that almost didn’t happen. It’s been more than five years since the school was last on track to earn Awards from GGYA. This latest achievement wouldn’t have been possible without until leader Edwin Johnson, Ms Sands and volunteer Chuck Smith, a hospitality teacher at the school.
Mr Johnson, a graduate of C.C. Sweeting and former programme participant was recruited by his old unit leader, guidance counsellor Philipa Shaw, when she could no longer continue. In 2019, he started off with 20 participants. The number dwindled to 10, all eleventh and twelfth graders who graduated without completing their Award due to the pandemic.
In May, Mr Johnson – who is employed outside the school – changed his strategy to focus on younger students. Ironically, only girls signed up for the programme. They developed skills in cosmetology, played soccer, volunteered with Ardastra Gardens and partnered with Dolphin Encounter for a beach clean-up, among other community work.
“It was very exciting to see their limits be tested and to watch them go through this new experience in life and it was great to hear their personal challenges and experiences and how they overcame them,” said Mr Johnson.
“This was a great accomplishment for them, and I can see that they are eager to receive their Awards. I’m hoping that it motivates them to go on to the next level so they can really reap the true benefits of this programme just like I did.”