Canadian Gold Award holder Jessica Silva, one of eight new Emerging Leaders to sit on the International Council (IC) shared her Award Journey at the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award Forum 2015 at Toronto
I remember dragging my father into the room as my Bronze ceremony commenced. He was a bit confused as to why I was so in awe with the young gentleman who sat at our table. Mr. Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children and Me to We, was our guest speaker for our Bronze Award Ceremony and who had the pleasure of sitting at his table? Myself and a few students from my High School. As my father casually made conversation with him, I kept nudging him so as to warn him that he was infringing on the "embarrassing" territory and he needed to simply "stop talking". My father was still confused as to what Mr. Kielburger's role was until he got up to the podium to speak.
Mr. Kielburger began with a story. He shared with us his adventures in Ecuador where he and his team of volunteers were attempting to finish building a school, however they had underestimated timing needed to complete their plans as they were unable to finish building the school in time. Concerned, Mr. Kielburger went to the chief of the village and in an apologetic tone, explained that he and his team were unable to finish the school they were attempting to build for the community. The chief simply explained that there was no need to worry. Mr. Kielburger was confused and thought that the chief had not understood what he was saying. The chief laughed and said he would call for a "minga". Mr. Kielburger left confused, however to his surprise he would learn the meaning of this word "minga" when he woke the next morning. As villagers from surrounding villages pilled in to help with the school, Craig understood the power of "minga".
Mr. Kielburger explained that there was no direct translation for the work "minga" however he roughly translated it to mean " the coming together of a community for the greater good". It was at my Bronze Award Ceremony where this very sentiment was engrained in my head. The idea of the power of a community to affect change came to be the very sentiment that fueled my passion and dedication to international development work and advocacy on behalf of the marginalized. Moreover, It was also the thread that held together my personal journey with the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award.
After Mr Kielburger's Speech, my father, an avid traveller, began to ask questions about Free the children's upcoming trip to China during the summer of 2007. About three months later, I was booked on a trip of a lifetime where I began to experience the meaning of community, non formal education, and most of all the importance of taking advantages of opportunities that present themselves when you least expect it.
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award, was complimentary to those activities that I was so passionate about pursuing like community service with the homeless in Toronto or learning another language like French. However, I always found it challenging to meet the requirements for the adventurous journey as Toronto, which I am sure you have all realized by now, is not the most outdoorsy place. How could a young woman like myself pursue an adventurous journey when I live in an urban setting. Thankfully, the Award allowed for flexibility with the qualifications for an adventurous journey and my trip to China qualified for my Silver adventurous journey.
In keeping up with the momentum, I continued my Gold Award at the age of 17. However, I slowly began to lose not only my motivation for continuing the Award but also the reason for which I was doing the Award. I began to get tied down with school work, other personal aspirations, and most of all my passions lead my to pursue other opportunities that arose at that time. Before I knew it, I had stopped working on my Gold Award at the end of high school.
Throughout the years, I always worked towards saving up for a trip of a lifetime and for me that was during the Summer of 2011. In my second year at university, I was selected to attend as one of 10 students from my university on an international health field placement in Zambia. We lived in a compound outside of Lusaka and were fortunate enough to work alongside locals. My personal project was working with rural female gardeners and creating a social enterprise project to increase their livelihoods and hopefully, create more opportunities for a sustainable income. It was then where I realized my privilege of having experienced the Award programme. I knew that I had put that opportunity on hold for the moment and as life progressed, I forgot about the aspirations of that young girl who met Craig Kielburger. He challenged us to be that change we want to see in the world and the Award challenged me to push myself to my limits. It was not until I was living alongside those who were not as privileged as I, where I realized just how grateful and lucky I was to be afforded the opportunity of choosing to partake in such an Award programme.
From there, I decided that I would return to Canada and complete my Gold Award as an independent participant. Fortunately enough, my backpacking exploratory journey that I conducted after my health field placement qualified for my adventurous journey. I worked as quickly as I could and dedicated my time to completing my Award. I was so proud to have achieved my Gold. However, when I attended my Gold Award ceremony, I remember being a little taken aback at just how much judgment and lack of collaboration there was at the Award ceremony. As I am a friendly person, I tried to build relationships with those around me, however they were in no way, interested. Moreover, they shared with me stories that alluded to their privilege. I thought back to those whom I had worked with in Zambia and realized that from that point on, I wanted to provide the opportunity of the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award to those who were less privileged in Canada. This was my plan then and is still my plan as I stand here today.
Personally, I would like to thank the Award for allowing me the opportunity to not only gain useful life skills but to also pursue those opportunities that fueled my passions in life. The Award programme's flexibility allowed for me to take a break and pick right back up from where I started. I feel that without that, I may not have completed my Gold Award.
For the Award's future, it is my hope to see the Award flourish amongst the marginalized, of course giving careful definition to whom we define as marginalized. Personally, I think there is the opportunity to establish many partnerships with universities, community colleges, youth programs and even youth clubs where we can present the opportunity to create collaborative models to delivering the Award and more importantly creating a "minga" where youth feel supported throughout their Award experiences. If I may dream so big, I would also love to see more collaboration between countries to creating support for Award participants and Award holders in accomplishing their personal goals outside of the Award. I feel that through networking and creating partnerships, we can all do our part to ensuring the growth and longevity of the Award programme.