by Larry Smith
You may not know this, but Tough Call grew up with Prince Charles.
He and I are about the same age, we went to the Clifford Park Independence celebrations together, and we still haven't figured out what we are supposed to do in life.
I clearly recall Charles' troubled childhood. But while he may have had distant and pre-occupied parents, he certainly enjoyed a much finer education than I did.
During the 1960s, while I was lectured by a Scot named Roger Kelty in un-air conditioned classrooms at Queen's College, Charles was at Gordonstoun - an elite school set in a 17th century Scottish estate that could have been the model for Harry Potter's Hogwarts Academy.
Students at Gordonstoun and its associated schools are committed to "academic excellence, personal development and responsibility...achieved by participating in community service, work projects, exchange programmes and adventuring."
Wow! Other than picking up rocks on the playing field and writing lines about 'trifling in de corridor' (set by prefect Winston Jones), all I can remember from my school days are Mr Kelty's literary jokes (as in "There's a divinity that shapes our ends...") - which he continues to email me from his Lifeless Cay office.
Whereas in a recent interview Charles described his own experience thusly: "The thing about Gordonstoun was that it encouraged people to take the initiative and not sit around expecting others to do everything. The main principle underlying the school was that in order to help the transition from childhood to adulthood you needed to give young adolescents responsibilities."
Gordonstoun was set up in 1934 by a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany named Kurt Hahn. It was an international boarding school committed to a "sound mind and a sound body." And it was the same school that Charles' dad, the iron Duke of Edinburgh, had attended way back in the day.
While Prince Philip was at Gordonstoun, he participated in the school's award programme. And in a fit of nostalgia in 1956 he set up a national youth programme along the same lines, called the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, to promote the development of British 14- to 25-year-olds, regardless of gender, background or ability.
"It's a do-it yourself growing-up kit," the Duke explained in a recent interview. "The idea was to provide young people with a broad range of choices of what they could do. In a sense they decide how they are going to educate themselves. The principle was that they decide what they are going to do, and when and how much."
More than three million young people in Britain have gone through the programme since then. And surely it would be a fine thing to have such a scheme in the Bahamas, where older folks like us wring our hands in despair at the spaced out lifestyles of the younger generation.
There should be a challenging outlet for young Bahamians. Something that's not punitive but inspiring. Something that's available to all, that bridges social divides and builds positive life experiences.
Well, turns out there is just such a programme. It was originally named after the Duke of Edinburgh in the 1970s, but later re-branded as the Governor-General's Youth Award, and more than 8000 young Bahamians have received a better start in life because of it.
The GGYA teaches skills outside of the classroom such as leadership, self-confidence and teamwork. And in addition to about a thousand youngsters from regular public and private high schools, it includes dozens of kids from the National Youth Service as well as 15 juvenile offenders at the Simpson-Penn School.
It was re-started in Nassau in 1987, with the help of Robert Nihon - the son of a Belgian butcher named Alexis Nihon who became a real estate magnate in Canada and made the Bahamas his third home. Currently, the GGYA is chaired by Dr Davidson Hepburn, a former ambassador to the United Nations, who says the annual cost runs to some $200,000. But, he adds, the returns are immeasurable.
As Esso dealer Henderson Burrows told Tough Call: "The Award strengthens character. sharpens skills, increases stamina, gives back to the community and let's you venture on expeditions to see and do things that you will remember all your life."
Burrows joined the GGYA through the Cathedral scout troop, and to complete his gold award he spent three days hiking the length of Rose Island with a dozen other youngsters living off the land. One of his companions was Victor Chandler of J. S. Johnson. Other gold awardees (and there are more than 180 in all) have included Patricia Hermanns of Family Guardian, and Jackie Lightbourn at the Kirk.
The GGYA is part of an international network that has processed almost six million young people in over 100 countries since 1956. It is divided into bronze, silver and gold awards so that youngsters can choose different levels of participation in areas like community service, skills development, physical recreation and adventurous journeying. Currently, there are about a thousand participants on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Andros and Exuma.
They are led by 35 trained instructors who include personalities like Nurse Donna Saunders from St Augustine's College, Constance Miller of the Girl Guides, Henry Curry of the Boy's Brigade, Roger Thompson of the College of The Bahamas and Alan Pinto of GHS. All the instructors - as well as their helpers - are volunteers. Only three staffers are paid, including the programme's chief coordinator since 1991 - Denise Mortimer.
"Anyone can do the Award," Mortimer told Tough Call. "There are no limitations - you just need to be motivated. It's the top accolade that any Bahamian youth can achieve, and it's the only award that some will ever get in their lifetimes. It changes lives and it definitely helps to bridge social gaps."
That was the view of a recent Bahamian participant from St Andrew's named Aliya: "One of my best memories was a camping trip where we walked all day with maps and huge bags to Adelaide village, cooked for ourselves, bathed in the sea and fought off stray goats and dogs. We were able to meet and interact with GGYA members from other schools and I still have friends that I met on that trip years ago."
Perhaps the most unusual part of the GGYA programme is the annual expedition - a 10-day field trip to a Family Island for more than a hundred youngsters. These excursions have included camping on Cat Island and in the Inagua National Park; hiking on Abaco and Eleuthera; kayaking in the Lucayan National Park; and sailing on the Captain Moxey to several island destinations.
Kids pay a small portion of the cost for this once-in-a-lifetime experience (and it's the only part of the programme they have to pay for). The bulk of GGYA expenses are met by donors. These sponsors have included the Ministry of Youth, Teekay Shipping, Cable Bahamas and Lyford Cay. On top of this, GGYA gold awardees take part in a yearly trip to different islands in the Caribbean, where they join with other regional participants to climb mountains and take part in other activities.
The GGYA celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and coordinators are seeking to extend the programme's reach by subsidising more inner city school children from Nassau. But the main goal is to raise enough money to set up an endowment fund so that the Award can be self-sustaining.
And guess who's coming to dinner? None other than Charles' younger brother - Edward Antony Richard Louis Mountbatten-Windsor (otherwise known as the Earl of Wessex - seventh in line to the British throne).
Edward was just a baby when Charles and I were growing up, but he is now chairman of the international division of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. He arrives in Nassau February 2 to hand out awards, meet participants and star at fund-raising events to support "a programme without boundaries."