Erin Maitland is a Gold Award Achiever with the heart of a poet. Living her life with kindness, compassion and grace, she has exemplified these qualities through each pillar of the Award. Erin has earned all three bronze, silver and gold awards, and recently continued raising awareness for the Duke of Ed by completing the Diamond Challenge - a challenge to commemorate the Diamond anniversary of the Duke of Ed in the UK. Erin is a writer who credits the Duke of Ed with helping her to gain the confidence needed to find her voice.
Lucky for us, she was gracious enough to share that voice with us in the in the following Q&A.
How did you hear about the Duke of Ed, and why did you choose to pursue earning the Award?
I heard about The Duke of Ed from a classmate at school. She was telling me about her dog sledding journey and I fell in love with the idea of being able to explore the world with this Award. I choose to pursue the Award because it was a program that would recognize the work I was already doing and it would push me to work on myself. The Award was the first thing I did for myself; it allowed me to realize my potential and my passions.
How have your experiences with The Duke of Ed shaped your identity?
The Duke of Ed is one of the main reasons I am who I am today. Going into the Award I was not confident in my voice and in my opinions. The Award allowed me to realize that what I had to say was important and that I could make a difference. The service portion of the award opened my eyes to the world around me, it was bigger than just me and that even small things could make a difference. The physical recreation portion allowed me to become dedicated to a team and to persevering through the challenges it brings. My skill allowed me to rekindle a passion I had for writing and helped me learn how to remain dedicated to something. The adventurous journeys made the biggest difference in my life, they allowed me to learn new skills, push myself, make new friends, and overall realize that I can do anything I set my mind to.
What surprised you the most about yourself during your Duke of Ed experiences? What surprised you the most about other people?
I was most surprised by eagerness to step outside my comfort zone. Before Duke of Ed I had a small box I remained in and after Duke of Ed I was ready to grab a hold of opportunities, remain humble, and accomplish new things. What surprised me the most about other people was how even the in the face of difficulty they can remain positive and make it through anything. I met a girl during my silver ceremony that for her adventurous journey went hiking and on that trip her leader had a heart attack. The group of youth on the trip had to perform CPR and had to call emergency services. However, she still saw the value and positives of that trip and how it made her who she was that day. I was absolutely amazed.
What is your favourite memory from your time at The Duke of Ed?
A favourite memory is a very difficult thing to choose as there are so many amazing memory from Duke of Ed. The Award is made up of endless amazing memories for me. If I had to choose a favourite though I would say it was a moment from my gold award trip. I went dog sledding in Algonquin Park with Chocpaw and it was freezing -40 sometimes due to wind chill. One moment stuck out for me though, it was New Year’s Eve and my group was all trying to stay awake. I was outside looking at the stars. That moment I will cherish forever. The vast landscape of stars above me was breathtaking; I closed my eyes for a moment and smiled not only with my mouth but with my heart. Standing beneath the stars I felt wonder and awe for the world we have and for the time I was given. I realized I was a small part of a bigger picture but that I could still change the world, like a shooting star changing the landscape of stars. When I opened my eyes, one of my new friends was standing there. We talked about the cold and he told me he was fine as he was from Winnipeg so he could handle it. He called in Winterpeg. I laughed so hard and it echoed through the night. It was a moment of absolute joy.
Can you describe a moment when you wanted to give up? What motivated you to continue?
I wanted to give up on my physical recreation during my silver award. I was a part of the cross country team at my school. I was not very good and I asked to be on the team merely to improve, as well as to complete my Award. We had a five kilometre meet and one part of the track was up the steepest hill. Attempting to climb that hill was not only a moment I wanted to give up on the race but also on the Award. I was unable to breathe and every part of my body hurt. I would take a step and the end of the hill seemed no closer. I stopped and went to turn around to give up. A girl running up the hill stopped as well beside me. She turned and said she would finish the hill with me. She didn’t have to stop, it was still a competition at the end of the day but she did stop. I stood there shocked but I agreed and we climbed together. At the top she patted me on the back and off she ran. I do not know her name but she gave me motivation. She made me realize that I have people on my side and people that see my value. I cannot give up for them and I cannot give up for myself, I finished that hill so I could do anything.
For your skill, you wrote a 50 000 word novel. What was your novel about and what prompted you to write it?
My novel over the course of the award has grown even past the original 50,000 words to over 70,000 words, which is shocking to me. It started out as a short story I wrote in my free time in grade six. I picked it back up in grade nine and the characters came to life in my head. The prompt to write it was not only the Award but my passion for writing and my passion for bringing to life my characters and the story in my head. Writing is an outlet for me to work through issues, learn more about myself and create art. I love the feeling of knowing something I’ve written has made an impact on someone or caused them some sort of emotion. The content of my novel is embarrassing; it’s a young adult novel about a vampire but it was a place for me to be the hero and protagonist of the novel so I loved it.
For the service component of the Award, you volunteered at a camp for under privileged youth and free the children. What drove you toward working with children, and what did you gain from working with them?
Children are the future and have big futures in front of them. That may sound corny but it is very true. Growing up I had a difficult home life and my future would not be what it is today without my teachers, support system and mentors. I choose to work with children because I wanted to and still want to be that support system for as many children as I can. I want to help them see their value and foster their potential. I gained so much working with them, they taught me to appreciate the small things in life.
In celebrations of the Duke of Ed’s diamond anniversary, the Duke of Ed has challenged everyone to participate in their diamond challenge to help raise funds for the Award. You recently rose to the occasion and took the challenge. Can you speak a bit about this experience?
The Diamond Challenge was an interesting concept to me. I decided to take the challenge because I wanted to re-instill the Duke of Ed values into my everyday life, they were still a part of my life but I wanted to remember the feeling of being completely dedicated to them again. I decided to do a mini Duke of Ed challenge. I tried interesting ways to participate in physical recreation such as an indoor obstacle course, donated blood and wrote five short stories based on the five sections of Duke of Ed. It reminded me how rewarding it is to accomplish something and the importance of spending time working on yourself and helping other. It also allowed me to donate money in a fun way to help youth be able to participate in the award as well.
What would tell youth to encourage them to join this program?
I would tell them to join the Award for the journey. Each step of your Duke of Ed journey is unlike anything else you have ever experienced. You will have fun in new and creative ways. You will learn things in ways you didn’t think were possible. You will become a new person and create connections that will last a lifetime. The Award may seem daunting but you will have support throughout and trust me, you can do it! Anyone can accomplish this award! The Award fosters mentorship and friendship, because even though it is about personal development, this development comes from the moments you spend working with and for others and for yourself.
What advice would you give to youth who don’t feel like they have the motivation, or the skills to earn these awards?
My advice is to do the Award because of that feeling. I went in thinking if I accomplish this it will be a miracle and left feeling I could do anything. The Award allows you to prove to yourself you do have the skills, the motivation and the dedication to make things happen. Believe in yourself and you can do it.
Read Erin's Short Story compilation here.