I can’t tell you how amazing the weekend was or how exciting it is to be the first to offer the International Award for Young People (known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in Britain) here in Georgia for the very first time. Or to know that young people in Georgia are now part of a much larger network of some 7million young people in over 130 countries, including neighbouring Russia, Armenia, Azerbijan, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Iran, and Turkey.
What is even more exciting, is that it was Oceans Project Georgia’s dream to launch the award here as part of our project, and in November last year, we had a very nice meeting with Di in the International Award Office in London after studying the Award since May 2011 (I started my Bronze award through scouts when I was younger, but had no idea it was international at that time) and knowing that we wanted it to play a big part in the Oceans Project here with our young people, seeing it become a reality was just superb for me. And to finally be hosting our International Award Trainers from London: Di and Jane, was brilliant, as well as being able to have some contact with fellow Brits for the first time since coming to Georgia, was a great sense of achievement, especially as we had no funding to go to London, and only raised money for our flights at the eleventh hour, back in November. It was also thanks to funding from the International Award that we were able to bring Di and Jane here to Georgia and to run a training course over the weekend. Di and Jane left Georgia at 4am this morning (before the snow returned!), and the impression they left on all involved was huge, but more than that, it is such a privilege to have introduced two new people to Georgia, to amazing Georgian warmth and hospitality, and the weekend also helped me to reflect on how much I love Georgia, and the reasons why I fell in love with the country when I first arrived back in October 2010. Knowing that two more people have left Georgia, with dreams of coming back, who will now go back to Britain and tell everyone they meet about what a lovely time they had in Georgia, how beautiful it is, and how hospitable Georgians are, is very heartwarming as one of my goals when I started Oceans Project was to change some of the misconceptions of Georgia, war, and being part of Russia. So I feel very proud that two new people have seen the side of Georgia that I originally fell in love with, and will now spread that to everyone they meet, family, friends, and when training other new leaders in all the countries they visit. It is great to know that in some small way, Georgia is moving forward but also the number of people aware of its customs, traditions, culture, music, wine, and so on has also increased and will help to preserve these for future generations to enjoy.
Exciting Futures for All
There are so many things that impressed me and gave me a real sense of accomplishment over the weekend, and I’m very hopeful for the future and excited about all the prospects available to us. Probably one of the greatest things to come out of the weekend, was the opportunity to work with three other fantastic organisations in Georgia, and during our two days of training and Supra in the evenings, I feel sure those new friendships and shared dreams will grow and grow and through collaborations, and young people in Georgia will have a very bright future, led by people who are passionate about them.
First Four Licensed Independent Operators in Georgia
This means that Oceans Project Georgia, Georgian Youth for Europe, Girl Scouts (Dia), and YMCA are now the very first licensed Independent Operators of the Award here in Georgia. We will now work together as four operators, decide how we will run the Award across Georgia, and aim to become a National Award Authority (NAA). There is no obligation for us to work together or to become an NAA, however, we all share the same goal of reaching and benefitting as many young people in Georgia as possible, and all feel that this is really necessary for the country to become an international player in everything it does. We have our first meeting on Saturday, and have lots of things to decide, and it also makes sense for us to work together, since we don’t have unlimited resources, and we face the same issues and work to do, so it makes sense to do this together, save money, time, and effort, because together we will achieve much more, and we can also bring the young people from each group together, and take them on events internationally, and run our awards ceremonies together. One of our first jobs will be to translate all of our materials into Georgian, send these translations to London where they will be verified and approved, and then we can print these materials and distribute them to our participants. We can also use the Russian versions that are already available which is great, and look to find Armenian versions. We also need to decide how we will cover the costs of the award, will be fundraise and offer it to young people for free, or will we charge for the cost of the materials? In many countries, the government pays for the award, or large sponsors cover the cost. We could offer it for free, for example, for Oceans Project Georgia participants, but make a charge for those who take the award through schools. So this is something that we need to decide at our next meeting, and it makes sense to all do the same, so as not to be in competition with each other. We also need to decide whether we wish to offer the adventurous journey part of the award together or separately, and so on. One of my hopes, is to have a meeting with the Minister for Education and Science, and to look into the possibility of the government covering the cost of the logbooks for example, which is about £1.90 per book I think. Since the Leaders are always voluntary, this will also keep costs down. We also need to set up a joint webpage and decide how to run this, and register as a charity within Georgia, set up bank accounts, etc. So, lots to do!
- Georgian Youth for Europe: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Georgian-Youth-for-Europe/147841938614125
- Girl Scouts: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Association-of-Girl-Guides-Girl-Scouts-of-Georgia-DIA/163294433733065
- YMCA: http://www.facebook.com/groups/178817848872063/
- Oceans Project Georgia: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oceans-Project-Georgia/233653316691866?bookmark_t=page
Duke of Edinburgh Award
The International Award is exactly the same as the Duke of Edinburgh Award which was set up in Britain in 1956 by three people: the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip, the Queen of England’s Husband), Sir John Hunt, and Kurt Hahn. But the award is known by different names around the world, and once we become an NAA, we can give our award in Georgia its own name too or keep it as the International Award for Young People. It is basically split into three award levels; bronze silver, and gold. You need to be at least 14 years old to start your Bronze, and must be no older than 25. Each award level is split into 4 sections: physical recreation, skills, service, and adventurous journey, and at gold level this is also a residential section. The Bronze award takes at least 6 months, Silver at least 6months, and Gold takes at least 12 months. When you get your Gold Award in Britain, you are invited to Buckingham Palace where a member of the Royal Family presents you with your award, and in Georgia, a member of the Royal Family will come here and present their award, and we hope to invite Oceans Project Georgia’s Patron Paul Rose to be here to see our Oceans Ambassadors get their awards too.
The Physical Recreation section involves at least three months of pursuing an activity which makes you sweat. It could be something the participant is already doing, but must not be something that they have to do as part of school or whatever, it needs to be extra to this. For Oceans Project, we will be offering BSAC Snorkel Diver training for this section, as they will be learning to snorkel, gaining a qualification, and then doing this on Earthwatch expedition in many cases, so they will have the chance to count this towards their award if they so wish. But many of our Ambassadors already play football, water polo or ski, so they can choose anything they wish, including skiing over winter and swimming over summer. But they need to keep a diary, and need someone to sign to say that they did it. The idea is that the award is done on a personal basis at a level which suits each participant. It is not a competition, but a reward which recognises their own individual achievements, so if they cheat and say they did something when they didn’t, then it really makes the award meaningless. So the more they put into it, the more sense of achievement at the end. Having the award is a massive bonus when applying to university or for jobs, especially in the UK, and having the Gold award is really admired. Gold Award holders also get invited to special events internationally, usually paid for.
For the Skills section they should learn a new skill, set themself a goal, and try and get better at it. So, for Oceans Project, this could be film making, as they are doing this anyway through us, building up to making their own short film, and then making films about their Earthwatch expeditions, and some will also be working on ‘Jeans Generation’, a big budget film with Nikoloz. Again, they need to keep a diary, and Nikoloz can sign each time or at the end to say that they did those hours. Some of our Ambassadors want to do other activities, like jewellery making, photography, and learning an instrument, so it can be anything, even work experience. As long as they do it for a minimum of three months. For the section which they enjoy the most, they should do 6months instead of 3months, but participants choose which it will be.
The service section is about doing something voluntary and for others, i.e. for your community. On Oceans Project Georgia, this can be participation in clean up action, environmental work, or helping our two Project Leaders who work at the zoo, or contributing to our educational workbook, and those who see them doing such work will sign their diaries, and of course, they can also make videos, take photos, or make a collage of their experiences to use as evidence too. But they can also do other things, visiting an elderly neighbour for at least one hour a week and helping them, working in an orphanage, or teaching English to younger students. The young person decides what they wish to do, sets their own goal, and plans their own time.
The next section is adventurous journey, and involves us teaching them map reading and compass skills in the class and then putting them into practice on a camping weekend. This is probably the section which I am most excited about developing and being involved with, but is also the most challenging as we first need to raise the money to pay for maps, compasses, camping equipment, and I want to make sure my team receive really good training and qualifications in their own right, like Mountain Leadership and First Aid. These are not requirements as such, but to me are very necessary in order to run the weekends at the highest level of safety and quality. Probably the easiest thing for the four Independent Operators will be to run our adventurous training weekends together, which will also be a lot more fun and really great for the young people from each organisation. The young people need to plan their route, and do it, reflect on it, improve, and then when they are ready to be assessed, they will do their final journey. This can be done anywhere, either in Georgia or abroad, and could be on foot, by bicycle, by kayak, or a sailing expedition, as long as it is done under human power.
Residential (Gold Only)
For Gold award, participants have one extra section, and that is the residential part. This involves doing something outside of your comfort zone, mixing with new people, and putting all your skills into practice. So for our young people on Oceans Project Georgia, this could be going on an Earthwatch Expedition, but not going as a group of friends, instead going on your own, or maybe with one other person, and then meeting with a team that consists of lots of people you have not met before. This is something that we really wish to promote in the future, especially through some of the amazing expedition opportunities we already have available to us, like the Pangea Sailing expeditions to collect data on the garbage patches of the oceans: http://www.panexplore.com/
Probably the best thing of the weekend for me personally, was having the opportunity to really spend time with my own team and reflecting on how much we have achieved already, in such a short space of time. We really gel as a team, and each have our own roles and strengths and each of us brings something very special and unique to the pot. We also have a really nice balance of characters and nationalities between us, and a variety of experiences and different focuses, but also we all share the same goals and excitement. Spending time with our team made me extremely proud, and I watched every member as they interacted with the 26 people involved in the training weekend, who cam from very diverse backgrounds and nationalities too: Georgia, England, Scotland, Latvia, Switzerland, Portugal, and Australia. I’m amazed how much each person has really found their feet and own role within Oceans Project, and how confident and skilled each has become. We usually struggle to find time when we can all meet, outside of project, and it was great to have supra together and do something outside of our regular activities and is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Sadly we all struggle financially and time is always eaten up in working to support ourselves, but we are all dedicated to Oceans Project and together we have really created something amazing.
Before the training started, we invited the International Award Trainers from London, Di and Jane to attend Oceans Project for the last hour and to meet some of our young people. It was a fantastic opportunity for our Oceans Ambassadors to meet foreigners and to show what young people in Georgia are like, and the kind of young people that we will be working with, and we were incredibly proud of how they behaved and interacted, and it was a great trial run for them before meeting foreigners on their Earthwatch expeditions over summer (if we can raise the money to go!). It was great to have 100% trust in them and to realise how far we have come since we first met them in September. And I can’t wait for them to start their International Awards on Saturday and to give them their logbooks which were kindly donated to us free of charge for the first group thanks to sponsorship.
Hopes for the Future
I’m very excited about our first meeting as 4 Independent Operators and putting Georgia on the International Award map and can’t wait to get started on some planning together. Hopefully we can collaborate and through working together, help to take Oceans Project Georgia into the rural communities and different regions of Georgia. We also wish to develop Oceans Project to reach the more marginalised parts of society, the Roma and street children, young offenders, and IDPs, and to link up and take our young people to international award events, and to invite other award participants to join us here in Georgia for adventurous training camps, as well as our Oceans Ambassadors having the opportunity to meet with award holders in the Bahamas, Belize, and so on during our Earthwatch expeditions. And if we can somehow work with the Ministry of Education and Science, it would be just amazing if we could take the award into every school in Georgia over time. But, everything will need to be done in baby steps, one move at a time for now. Building up and up as we go. But I have to say, that I think Georgia has the potential to be one of the best countries to offer the award over time!!!!