If he hadn’t won the Duke of Edinburgh Award, James says he would “probably be in jail.”
This award is one of the most important in the world and is focused on rewarding young people from more than 140 countries and territories around the world.
The recognition encourages young people to design their goals and challenge themselves to achieve their goals.
For some of the millions of young people who have taken up this challenge, such as Britain’s James, winning it has been a radical life change full of opportunities.
By age 15, James and his friend Nathan, 16, had had more trouble with the police than they remember.
They grew up in Darlington, northeast England, where they felt they “had nothing to do” but mischief.
For fun, in their early teens they rode motorcycles illegally, which later became a succession of minor offenses such as antisocial behavior and criminal harm.
James describes his behavior as a “chaos generator.” Nathan adds: “Wherever he was he created problems.”
After being caught for separate crimes, the two friends had to complete several hours of community service as punishment in 2018.
The season the couple enjoyed the most was the one when youth officer Dave Kirton taught them how to repair bikes for a community project.
Dave, who is also monitor of the Duke of Edinburgh Award program, arranged a deal with the teenagers: if they participated in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award, they would be given five hours off from their service.
“It was a reward, an incentive,” says Dave.
“At the beginning they were both reluctant, but in the end they agreed and after two or three weeks they realized the opportunity they had and they got fully involved“.
Change of actitud
For most entrants, completing the bronze award takes about six months.
It consists of four sections: volunteering, physical challenge, developing a skill, and being part of an expedition, which normally consists of two days of hiking and overnight camping.
The silver and gold awards are more difíwhich theand take longer to complete.
James says the commitment required for his bronze award forced a change in his behavior: “I stopped being naughty.”
Nathan found that he learned new things easily by gaining orientation skills during expeditions.
“There is a potential in you that no you know until you try, “says Nathan.
Boost for youth
Nathan’s achievement is exactly the kind of boost Prince Philip wanted to give the youngest when he created the Duke of Edinburgh Prize in 1956.
The idea, expressed by the Duke himself, was simple: “If you can make a young man succeed in one activity, that feeling will spread to many others.”
The origins of this idea lie in the very resilience that helped Felipe to go through his sometimes troubled childhood and his experience at school.
Gordonstoun boarding school, where both Felipe and Prince Charles attended, had a strong physical regimen with a special emphasis on personal development, as recounted in The Crown, the Netflix series.
At first, the duke’s award was only intended for males, with around 7,000 signing up the first year.
In 1958 girls were allowed to participate as well, but with a focus on housework and community service.
The program was matched for girls and boys in 1980. An egalitarian movement that helped a young woman overcome part of her traumatic childhood.
Lauren (not her real name) was abused by her parents as a child. She confesses that they used to hang her from a balcony, an abusive hobby that created a fear of heights.
During Lauren’s expedition for the bronze award in 2018, at the age of 14, she was given the opportunity to take a high ropes course as an extra activity.
“I had friends who were there and they encouraged me. In the end I did it and I was very relieved,” he says.
On high ropes day, Lauren’s fear of heights disappeared. “Now I can do anything,” he says.
Lauren, who now lives in an orphanage, says the friends she made during the show helped her gain crucial social skills. She wants to become a social worker and help others who have had traumatic childhoods.
The gold award
Those who complete the gold award have another high reward: they are invited to a ceremony in one of the royal residences.
Several are held each year, either at St James’s Palace or in the gardens of Buckingham Palace in London, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, or at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Prince Philip personally attended more than 500 gold award presentations. Other members of the royal family came if the duke was absent.
Until his death, he remained a sponsor of the organization.
Mohammed Leily says he was “fascinated” to meet “the man in person” at one of Felipe’s last events before retiring from his royal engagements in 2017.
“He walked and chatted with each group,” says Mohammed, who remains in contact with the friends he made during the program.
“I remember him telling us to try to be as active as possible and to make sure we take advantage of our youth while we had energy,”
Mohammed came to the UK in 2013. He was 17 years old and had come from Syria as a refugee.
She decided to enter the bronze award to meet new people and improve her English.
He reveled in the opportunity to volunteer for the Red Cross and help other refugees and asylum seekers settle into new homes.
Mohammed credits his gold award for helping him get uafter plaza to study medicine at the University of Southampton.
She says she still can’t believe she met Prince Philip. “When I left Syria, I never would have imagined that I would do that, or that I would see it.”
At the beginning of 2021, more than 3.1 million Duke of Edinburgh awards have been awarded to young people like Mohammed, Lauren, James or Nathan.
The international scope of the program allows currently more than a million people are completing the awards in more than 130 countries.
But if the participation numbers have increased dramatically, the ideas remain simple.
“One of the perpetual problems of human life is that young people of all generations have to find out for themselves what life is all about,” the duke said in 2010.
“These experiences teach more general lessons and serve as a practical demonstration of what can be achieved through determination and perseverance.”
Back in Darlington, James and Nathan have certainly learned those lessons.
Neither of them have been offenders since completing their bronze award.
“It makes you happy to know that your friend is doing well and doing well. And it makes us happy to know that we have both changed together“, dice Nathan.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.