The Duke of Ed Award is a self-motivated and directed award programme. The award believes that not all learning happens in the classroom and our aim is to help equip young Canadians aged 14-24 for success in life. By recognizing all of the amazing things young people can do and learn outside the boundaries of formal education, the Award empowers them to discover hidden talents, develop untapped leadership potential, make a difference in their community and explore the wonders of the great outdoors. The award is a commitment to a skill, physical recreation, service, adventurous journey, and residential project (gold level) at three levels bronze, silver and gold.
This collection of stories is written based on the five areas of the award. The goal was to help shed light on some of the struggles and personal accomplishments the award helps youth overcome. The award gives youth confidence, leadership skills, pushes them outside their comfort zone and much more. These stories were written for my Diamond Challenge of Duke of Ed, my challenge was to participate in a mini Duke of Ed. I am a bronze, silver, and gold award holder and I desired to recapture the spirit of Duke of Ed award in my everyday life. For the skill component of my Duke of Ed award I worked on writing, I wrote a 70,000 + word novel and personally missed writing. This mini challenge gave me the opportunity to rediscover my passion and work on my dedication to projects again.
The Diamond Challenge for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme is a challenge to commemorate the Diamond anniversary of the Duke of Ed in the UK. It is a challenge that calls participants of all ages, worldwide to take part in their own Duke of Ed inspired challenge, anything that is considered a personal challenge for instance, learning to dance, climbing a mountain, donating your hair, jumping out of an airplane, etc. This challenge calls for participants to also raise funds to help transform the lives of young people around the world. In order to complete it, one must complete their challenge as well as raise $105 CAD or £60 GBP. Funds raised will support disadvantaged and vulnerable young people in their journey with the Duke of Ed.
“Take this, you’ll need it,” Gwen snipped as she thrust a broom into my hands. Looking down at my new pants I sighed, they were not going to be black when I was done. Gwen led June and I down a back corridor which smelt of ash. June quietly asked, hoping Gwen wouldn’t hear, “What happened here?”
Gwen stopped on the second to last step and turned quickly towards us, exasperated as if she has told this story a thousand times and didn’t want to tell it again, “The stove was left on by one of the residents and a gust of wind carried a napkin into the open heat. It caught fire and so did the rest of this half of the building,” she shrugged her shoulders and spun back around to take the last step. June and I exchanged a nervous glance.
In the hallway, it was dimly lit. The concrete beneath our feet was slightly damp, most likely from the firefighters. Gwen opened a door on our left and gestured us in. She stayed outside holding the door open as if she was scared or too disgusted to go in. Calling into us, Gwen instructed, “So this is the boiler room and you guys probably have the least exciting job. Just sweep the floor, and then mop it. The mop is beside the freezer,” I looked around there were like three freezers in this room but I spotted the sad looking mop, “and if you have time, I know you only have a couple hours before you two have to leave, could you wipe down all the surfaces with the antibacterial wipes over there?” She pointed roughly towards the boiler.
The door closed behind her with a slam and the two of us were left alone. Looking down at the floor, it was black not due to colour but due to dirt. There was dust everywhere and specks that I just didn’t want to know what they were. June coughed, “What have we got ourselves into?”
“We just have to do it. Volunteering is not always glamorous. I’ll sweep and you can hold the pan,” I said pulling the pan off the broom and I held it out to her. She scoffed at me, grabbed the broom, and began to sweep. A cloud of dust was around my face as I readjusted my gloves waiting for a pile of dirt to enter my pan.
Looking up at June I said, “I wonder how long it’s been since this place has been properly cleaned?”
“I don’t know if it ever has been.”
“I don’t think they have time, they seem so busy especially now with the fire. All the women they help, I think that is their first priority,” I said.
She pushed the first load of dirt into the pan and I walked over to the garbage to throw it out. The light flickered and June shivered, “Let’s just get this done quickly,” she moaned.
The sweeping was easy because there is only so much one can get off the floor. The hardest part was mopping, we had to scrub so hard to get the grime off. I looked at June as I said, “One of us has to clean behind the boiler and behind the freezers. Like with our hands. It can’t be done with the broom or mop; it has to be with our hands.”
“Rock, paper, scissors?” she suggested holding out her fist.
She lost and she sighed putting the mop away. She grabbed handful of wipes and passed me the rest. “You do not want to know what it looks like back here,” is all I could here as I looked down to see grey stains on my pants.
About fifteen minutes later we were done. We looked at one another and smiled, it wasn’t perfect but it was a pretty good job for two sixteen year olds who the hardest thing they ever cleaned was their family’s toilets. June pulled off her gloves as she said, “Do you know how to get back to the main room?”
“Uh…no. Do you?” I asked sheepishly.
She shook her head and we both knew we would just have to try our bests. She pushed me forward as to lead the way. I found a staircase and just hoped it was the one that was Gwen had showed us. At the top of the stairs there was a long hallway, June pushed on my shoulder as she said, “So this is not where we came from. Should we go back?”
My answer was a step forward. I was unsure of where exactly we were but most hallways will lead back to the middle of a building so that’s what I was going with. As we walked, I could hear June wiping dirt off her shoes and her pants muttering that her mother was going to kill her. I could see an open door coming up on our right and all I could think was to act natural and maybe there won’t be anyone inside.
The light inside the room was dim and June behind me got quiet. I couldn’t help it as I turned my head to look in. There were about ten beds all lined up with a side table in between them. On one bed there were three women sitting huddled together talking and there were about four other women in the room on their own beds I assumed. One of the three women talking saw us and stopped, she said, “Are you two some of the girls helping us out today?”
I nodded and smiled. The lady got up and came towards the door. As she got closer, I could see a bruise covering half her face, I tried to look away but I wasn’t quick enough. With my head down I whispered an apology. She spoke again, “Oh honey, don’t worry. It is pretty noticeable. It’s why I’m here. My husband hit me and I had nowhere to go. This place saved me,” I could see a lot of the other women nodding in the background in agreement, “and you are helping save this place.”
I tensed up, “We didn’t do that much. Just cleaned the boiler room.”
“That’s exactly what this place needed. This home never has had enough love because all the love has been poured into us. So again we all say thank you,” she declared holding out her hand. I shook it gingerly and blushed. I felt so ashamed for not seeing the value in what we were doing. She then shook June’s hand and smiled as she asked, “Now you two look a little lost. Do you need some help getting your way back to Gwen?”
June spoke up, “Yes that would be great!”
Walking behind June and Mrs. Anderson, whom the lady introduced herself as, I could hear them chatting about luck and how luck can come in the weirdest of ways. And all I could think was how lucky I was to have volunteered here. These women deserved as much as I could give and I realized how thankful I was that my only concern was how dirty my pants were.
Pulling it from the edges of the notebook, my paper comes free and I crumple into a ball in my fist, “That won’t work,” I say out loud. Little bit of paper fall onto my pants, as if my paper was crying, I wipe them off onto the floor in frustration. Throwing the crumpled ball onto my desk, it hits another one of its siblings and comes to a rolling stop near my stapler; I pick up my pencil and place the grainy eraser against my forehead. I close my eyes and try to picture where my story is going, in my head I see my characters come to life. Standing before me was Liam, my twenty-five year old creation.
Liam was tall and had a toned body; I could see his arm muscles beneath his shirt. He was smiling with a slight smirk across his left cheek and his hazel eyes shimmered under the lights of the room we were in. He turned from me and I could see his arm rise. He was motioning for someone else to come towards us. Stepping out of the shadows was my young lady. She grabbed his hand and their hands fit together perfectly. “I was right. They are meant to be together,” I said in my head. Liam quickly whipped his head back and looked back at me. He heard me. He had a puzzled look on his face, raising his eyebrows. He turned his head back to my lady, who seemed unfazed.
My woman, lady, girl, was in her early twenties and had poorly dyed hair. She stood awkwardly holding her side with her other hand. She had contact in and around them her eyes were red. She looked down at Liam’s hand and smiled. Then she let go of his hand and walked around him so she was closer to me. I closed my eyes and exhaled preparing myself for her attack.
Instead, I felt her hands on my face. Her hands were small and her nails were ragged from biting them. “I am too weak,” is all she said and she let her hands fall from my face. My vision went black and I could feel the eraser slipping from my forehead.
Bringing my pencil to the paper I began to write, “Angeline grabbed her bag and ran out the door…”
Wobbling back and forth, it felt weird to be holding myself up at this angle. I am used to being on two feet, having both firmly planted on the ground. I can hear Michael start up again, “Make sure you find your spot, if you don’t have it that’s on you.”
I never can find my spot. I do not fully comprehend what that even means. I spin my head looking for a spot that makes me feel somewhat confident. The clock seems helpful. At least I know what it is and I know what it means; the cat poster is less welcoming because whoever truly feels, “purrrfectt”? I'm watching the clock as Michael says, “Now just spin slowly.”
On my one foot I turn my body, my head and my arms, but I can’t find the clock. I see the number twelve zoom past in my vision but I cannot capture the whole clocks image and keep it there. I stagger forward and plant my right foot on the floor. Frustrated, I step back and let out an exasperated puff of air.
Michael is turning and turning, so gracefully. Beside me Annie has completed her spin and is smiling, ready to go again. I need to take a moment to myself and I walk to the bathroom. Turning the tap on, I let the water rush down the drain and I just sigh. Looking up at my reflection I can see the beads of sweat on my forehead. Pooling the water in my hands and then splashing it on my face I feel the sweat and water mingle together. Straightening up, I say out loud to myself, “why am I even doing this?”
Shaking my head, “I have always loved dance. Seeing the way someone can move and express an emotion without words is so fascinating to me. I was told I could never do it. I was not the right body shape, I wasn’t coordinated enough, and it wasn’t meant for me. I was even laughed at when I told my friends that I was going to join the community center class to work towards my award. So why am I doing this… to embarrass myself? I can’t even do one turn,” then I pause. Looking down at my shorts, I pull them to the center of my body and I feel a tear escape my eye.
“I am doing this to be able to accomplish a dream, even if it is outside my comfort zone. I can’t just give up now, then everyone would be right and I know they aren’t. Anyone can dance is what Michael always says,” I look up at my reflection and smile.
Pushing on the door, I exit the bathroom and rejoin the rest of my class who are still working on their spins. One foot up, I push my arm forward. I see the clock hands tick past the thirty second mark.
Sitting under the hot sun, he could feel himself melting. Slowly sliding around and beginning to separate. He was so far away from the others; they had hidden him as to make it harder for them to find him. Out of the way, he was trying to remember how it had gotten here. He could remember laying and resting in his cylinder house for half a year untouched and content with his loneliness. Then suddenly, he was raised into the air and the pressure around the cylinder was squishing him up towards the top of his home. He began to vibrate, the cylinder was being shaken repeatedly and he began to feel sick. He tried to muster his thought into words, “Please stop,” but he couldn’t.
When the shaking finally, a light permeated his vision as the cap of his house was opened. He could hear shuffling and talking in the distance, “Is it still good?”
“Well there are some flakes but it’s still liquid so it’s good,” he could feel something pulling at some of his skin and flicking it away, it tickled. It made him chuckle. He was set back down on the hard surface his house had come been but the cap was still off.
“So the plan is to have all of us come up a day before to set up, practice, and organize the cabins. We have to make sure that we have the preliminary plan in place; we need several people to get all the supplies together. We have the Bristol boards already for the twenty team signs and we have the paint. We need the game supplies and the rules printed out still,” the excited high voice was cut off by a younger deeper voice.
The deeper voice said, “Do we need a megaphone?” There was laughter throughout the room.
“No, we have Erin.”
What was an Erin? Then the light was diminished and he was left alone again to hope he was safe. One day before the heat he was in the air again being moved in a very unpleasant and bumpy manner. He could hear people singing, “Everywhere we go…,” as loud as they could and all he could think was how he wanted to sleep. Once the bumping stopped he was lifted and brought into a cooler room where he could hear nothing at all until the next morning. There was endless giggling and chit chatter all morning. He was not impressed.
He heard something say, “Hey, hey, listen up! Listen up!” and the entire crowd of voices repeated it back. The voice spoke again, “This is your Orientation and leadership training for High School. It may sound like work but we are going to make this super fun. There will be workshops, guest speakers, and games, with some surprises along the way. Just make sure you have your listening ears on and are paying attention. We were your age once but we are now grade twelves. One day you guys could be here doing this so make the most of this time, what you put into this – is what you get out of it, and have fun!”
Then there was cheering, endless cheering. Then numbers were being called and he could hear groups of the voices leaving. He was scared and frustrated. He wanted to be back where he came from, not in this strange place. Seeping down into a puddle, he could feel himself come off the side of his home back into being one with himself. He sat silently and hoped this was the last of this nonsense he would hear.
In the heat, he could not keep his eyes open. The sun was too bright and the surface he was on was not as comfortable as his cylinder home. He was so exposed. He has been thrown out his home so hastily, that so much of himself was destroyed or lost. In his spot, he could see his comrades in the distance and wondered if they all were stripped from their homes the same way. Then he heard it.
He heard a loud cry, “Are you ready to make your signs?!?”
“Work as team to get the supplies and get your sign as beautiful and as creative as possible! On your marks, get set, go!”
That’s when he witnessed the massacre all his comrades were thrown about. He could see Miss Purple being thrown onto a Bristol board and he watched two large creatures fight over Green. Green was smeared all over one of the creature’s backs and then the rest of him was splattered on a Bristol board. He could hear pounding and he knew his fate was about to be sealed.
Splat, something hit him as hard as it could and he could feel himself being torn into two. One half left on the new home which appeared white and round from the new angle and the other on part of the creature that appeared to move and grab things. The creature smiled as it looked at him and said, “This is the perfect thing for our group sign. We will do hand-prints with the paint to represent unity and overlap them in different colours. And this colour red is perfect for my hand print. I love camp!”
“How did he know my name was Red and what is Camp?” he wondered as the creature moved. “I don’t like camp,” he thought, “but this creature sure does. It makes it so happy.” The creature’s happiness put Red at ease as it went off running.
Squishing beneath the soles of my boots and causing me to slip was an endless amount of mud. It was not a deep brown colour like normal mud but instead it was light brown and someone tried to tell me it was clay. Clay or mud at that moment I didn’t care, I was sinking into it and it was all over my lower half. I had fallen once onto my left knee which caused my pant leg to cling to my skin and I could feel the mud drip down my ankle. The mud was not only deep but it was also extremely soupy from the rain that was coming down in sheets. My hair clung to my cheek as I tried to maintain my grip on the bow of my group’s canoe. It was heavy and hard to grip with the current moving it back and forth.
I was alone standing in the mud as my team mates carried packs of equipment over the rock face that was behind me to the other side of the portage. I was holding the last canoe of the day and everyone was tired. Alone, I was scared not just scared for myself but scared for the others. The rock face behind me was slippery and I was worried that someone had fallen as no one had come back for me yet. Sliding down the mud was a large branch, I watched it wearily. If it hit me or the canoe I was going to either fall into the water or I was going to let go the canoe. The branch hit a rock and slowly turned away from me, I sighed in relief.
Shaking from the cold, I was joined by two of my team mates, Greg and Dani. Dani looked at me and laughed, “You look like you’ve been through a war.”
“It’s been a fight trying to keep this canoe in place. My arms are dying,” I replied laughing nervously.
Greg looked between the two of us, “They are just fixing the canoes on that side then the rest of them will be over to help lift this one,” he said gesturing to the 300 pound canoe floating in front of me.
Dani bent down and touched the mud, “This feels so nice between my fingers.”
“I wouldn’t know,” nodding towards my two hands on the canoe.
“Well let’s see how it feels on your face, it will be like a facial,” she said coming towards. She had her finger out and I was shaking my head no as she drew a stripe of mud on both my cheeks as she laughed. Greg was trying to stand up as he laughed too, but Dani grabbed his arm and did the same to his face, “Not so funny now when the jokes on you!”
Greg stopped laughing and grabbed mud from beneath his feet. He threw it at Dani’s side and she looked shocked, “What’s that for!” Then with dirty fingers Greg drew two lines on Dani’s face as he said, “Payback.”
The two were interrupted when Dan met us with four other campers, “Alright guys! Prepare yourselves for the last one of the day!” The wind was loud and the rain was whirling but we all knew what he was trying to say even if we couldn’t hear it.
Dragging the canoe out of the water was harder than it looked. From all the movement of canoes and people the hill that we used drag the other canoes out was too steep, so we had to pull it out at a weird angle. The water resisted us as we pulled and at the front I could barely help. Once on the hill, there was then the issue of flipping the canoe without it landing in the mud. If it did there was no way we could have a strong enough grip on the edges to carry it above our heads. I could hear Greg whispering, “Heave, ho,” under his breath as we flipped it slowly.
Dan instructed us to lift the canoe on the count of three, “One. Two. Three.” No one was ready for the weight of the canoe after all the work of canoeing against the winds, carrying bags, and camping in general for two days. I could feel people stagger left and right. We were swaying and Dan was trying to steady us as much as he could by holding the back firmly against his shoulder. We paused all of trying to get our footing and we began our journey over the rock. Dan called forward, “Jen you have to lead us.”
I had no confidence in this as my glasses were a mess and I could barely see two feet in front of me but I took two steps ahead. Yelling rock and branch every time an obstruction came in my path, which I nearly tripped on every time but I tried my best to lead. There was a part of the rock that was so steep one had to almost jump up and then grab the canoe from the next person. My forearms hurt as the canoe was in my grip as each person made their way up the face, it took us a good ten minutes to move over this obstacle but we did it one person at a time. At the top we lowered the canoe and had to break. Looking out over the water we could see a gust of wind travelling toward us as ripples on the water.
It wasn’t just a cloud it was hail. Hail in May, which is rare even for Canada. Dan looked a little frantic as he said, “We have to keep going.”
The hail and a downward slope was not a good combo. You could feel people giving up. Each time one person stopped carrying their load of the canoe’s weight I felt it in my shoulder. I took a step forward and then I could feel at least three people let go. I cried out in pain. Dan was yelling, “You have to pick up the canoe! Carry your share!” My legs were shaking beneath me and I could feel the tip of the canoe dig into my shoulder. I needed to hold on. No one was taking back their load, we were stuck in place. Dan yelled again, “We have to move! Help!”
I knew this was my cue to walk. I could barely lift my leg the weight was trying to keep me planted in place. There were about ten steps from the water’s edge, I couldn’t look back at my team but I knew there were less of them then when we started. Dan was groaning as he was carrying the back which weighed the most and I tried to lift the canoe higher as to take off some of the weight from him. But all I could do was concentrate on each step. My steps had to be deliberate, precise and quick. Quick was impossible but I did what I could, Dan, the team mates that were left and I would persevere.
Dani was crying I could hear her sniffling over my right shoulder and I wanted to do the same. Five steps more were all we needed to take. Off the rock and onto the grass we stepped, my boots sunk into the mud again. Greg started singing, “Just turn around now, Cause you're not welcome anymore...,” as he sang we each joined him, building louder until we hit everyone’s favourite part, “Oh no, not I, I will survive…” Singing made the steps seem easier I could feel my feet take the last step and my arms burn as Dan said, “Alright, let’s flip.”
Once the canoe was in the water and someone was holding it, there was a moment of absolute joy and relief. Dani wiped her face and exhaled loudly. Greg who was already excited was dancing and still singing. Dani came over and grabbed my shoulder and then Greg’s, “We need a picture to capture this moment,” so standing there covered in mud, looking exhausted but determined with our war paint Dan took our picture for us. He then gestured me aside to talk.
“Thank you Jen. The front of the canoe is the second heaviest part and it shouldn’t have been left to you but after that you proved that no-one else was better for the job. You are a true leader,” he said patting me on the back.
I didn’t know what to say I just stood there and Dan walked off picking up his paddle. He called the rest of the group together. He was stern but trying to be kind as he said, “Team work is about doing all that you can and never giving up. It is about completing the task assigned and carrying your load…” He was still explaining teamwork as I smiled and realized that teamwork was not only about doing your part but about doing as much as you can when others can’t, being the one people can lean on just as that canoe leaned on my shoulder. Re-buckling my life-jacket I looked proudly back at the path we had just traveled and I was ready to finish the rest of the journey, mud and all.