He was a champion of young people worldwide and instrumental in the growth of the Governor’s General Youth Award, one of the nation’s most popular after school programmes for non-formal education and learning.
Across The Bahamas today, 729 participants, 124 volunteers, 42 units, the national office, council and Board of Trustees marked the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. He was at the Queen’s side for more than 60 years. He died at Windsor Castle Friday morning.
Sixty-five years ago, Prince Philip established The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in the United Kingdom. Since then, it’s been rolled out in more than 130 countries and territories, empowering millions of young people to build the skills, confidence and resilience they need to support their communities and be ready for the world.
“This is a very sad occasion for us. He left behind a very real legacy in The Bahamas,” said Jacquetta Lightbourne-Maycock, GGYA’s national director.
“We thrive today because he helped to pave the way. Prince Philip lit a fire in our leadership to attract more and more young people to find their purpose, passion, and place, in the world. We should all seek to emulate his passion for the nation’s youth.”
The Duke of Edinburgh visited the programme in 1992. Back then, there were 151 participants spread throughout five New Providence-based units, supervised by six volunteers. Since then, 31,000 young people have passed through GGYA. In normal times, the programme averaged 100 volunteers per year with 56 units serving 11 islands.
Each participant learns a skill, improves their physical fitness, volunteers in their community and experiences a team adventure in a new environment. Success isn’t competitive rather it is a personal challenge. It is measured by young people showing commitment and progress in each area over a fixed period. Supporting them is a network of adult volunteers, unit leaders, assessors and the national office. There are three levels – Bronze, Silver and Gold – each progressively more challenging.
In 1996, the programme dropped its original name, The Bahamas Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and adopted the moniker, The Governor General’s Youth Award to reflect a sense of place and people. Despite this re-branding, strict adherence to the principles and structure set by the International Award Association has always been maintained.
Aside from his 1992 visit, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II toured the youth programme again in 1993, 1998 and 2001. GGYA’s former national director, Denise Mortimer was tapped to escort His Royal Highness during those high-profile events.
“When I joined the Award family in 1991, no one ever breathed a word to me that I should be prepared to accompany royalty, so imagine my surprise when six months into my tenure I, someone more comfortable coaching than curtsying, found out I was to escort a member of the Royal Family to Government House and a gala ball,” Ms Mortimer recalled.
“There are seven trillion nerves in the human body. During that first meeting with Prince Philip, it felt like each nerve of mine was on edge. I must confess, the feeling did not last long. His Royal Highness brought laser focused attention to our gatherings. The questions he asked participants displayed a genuine interest. His friendliness amazed me. I was taken aback by his interactions, not just with me, but with all the participants and guests at the ball. Although he was the royal one, Prince Philip made us all feel like VIPs.”
Prince Philip’s passion forthe Award programme was contagious. He saw the need for many more young persons throughout The Bahamas to have access to it.
“He helped me to see it too. His Royal Highness impressed upon me the importance of providing a quality programme and valuing our volunteers. It was something that I, in turn, passed on to my successor,” said the former national director.
It was the Duke’s suggestion that GGYA should charter a boat to take the Award participants sailing to other islands of The Bahamas, helping them to learn more about their country.
“That same year we launched the Bahamas Award Scheme Expedition (BASE) which took 75 participants mainly from New Providence to the island of San Salvador as part of the Christopher Columbus centennial celebrations. BASE is now in its 28th year,” said Ms Mortimer. “It attracts participants from across The Bahamas to partake in hiking expeditions across our archipelagic nation. We have taken participants to 14 of our Family Islands.”
During his final 2001 visit, Prince Philip presented Gold Awards and attended fundraising events.
“This time, I felt as if I was in the company of a trusted mentor. He was the perfect listener, Award promotor and teacher. One always learnt something new in his presence whether it was the latest marketing strategy; how to maintain the quality of the Award; changes in the Award delivery; funding ideas or how to strengthen the volunteer base. His unwavering commitment to our programme certainly aided our phenomenal growth over the years.”
John May, Secretary General of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation, hailed Prince Philip as a “thinker of truly global stature.”
“As young people face exceptional challenge and change in the wake of the current pandemic, this ‘do-it-yourself growing-up kit’, as he described it, is even more relevant today than ever.
His Royal Highness’s passion for, and commitment to, the work of the Award and the development of young people continued until the last. His determination, energy and enthusiasm will be greatly missed.”
The Award now continues under the watchful eyes of its chairman, Prince Philip’s son, HRH Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex.