Available to all 14- to 24-year-olds across Canada and in more than 140 countries, the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award inspires young people to reach their full potential. Originally launched in England 60 years ago, the organization now relies fully on donor support to fund its efforts.
Goals that include skills development, physical activity, volunteering and adventurous journeys in nature are facilitated by healthy peer support, mentorship and community engagement.
Focused on personal challenge rather than on competing against others, the program asks young people of all backgrounds and abilities to set their own goals. The result is a growing sense of independence, belonging, resilience, empathy, connectedness and confidence as well as experience and new abilities. When their goals are reached, participants are also rewarded with prestigious awards.
John-Andrew Pankiw-Petty, a Vancouver lawyer who now serves as the volunteer president of the BC & Yukon Region, achieved Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards as a youth. No one in his family had ever gone to university, and like many young people in similar situations, he says, “you see the world and your opportunities as limited. Then I was introduced to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. It opened up the horizon of opportunity for me – I began to see anything as possible.”
Wider outreach and technology mean the program is now available to youth anywhere in Canada, says Mr. Pankiw-Petty. “My parents opened a lot of doors for me, but where the program really shines is among those who may not yet have that kind of support. There’s a focus now on bringing it to youth with diverse disabilities, Indigenous Canadian youth, youth within the criminal justice system, and low-income and at-risk youth.”
Young people applying to university or for a job face a lot of competition, and the awards are a valuable means of demonstrating a well-rounded, self-motivated approach to life, he notes: “Award achievers don’t measure themselves by the pin [award] they wear but by the person they have become in earning that award. It’s a defining experience that stays with you forever, changing who you are and how you see and impact your community.
Aishwarya Roshan, also a Bronze, Silver and Gold Award achiever, was recently named one of the Top 25 under 25 Young Environmentalists in Canada. She is studying medicine at the University of British Columbia.
Ms. Roshan credits the awards with increasing her ability to reach all of her life goals. “Due to the diversity of activities, you learn quickly that the only way to keep up is through inspired motivation and hard work. That makes it possible to be better as a student, as an athlete and as a human being,” she explains.
“I believe the program is designed to help young people become the best versions of themselves,” says Ms. Roshan. “It’s brilliant, and something in which I think all students and youth should have the opportunity to participate.”
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