The DoFE Bronze Award in Fujairah – A Once in A Lifetime Experience

Avanija Menon
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Avanija Menon
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On November 24, 80 of the selected candidates for The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – Bronze, had our qualifying expedition in Fujairah, UAE. This award is a youth’s award program founded in the United Kingdom in 1956 by Prince Philip and has been expanded to 144 nations. This program is highly beneficial for the younger generation as it helps us to be independent, adaptable and self-sufficient, which are valuable skills that are not taught in the classroom but are required for our survival in this world. It is open for people between the ages 14-24 and it consists of 3 levels – Bronze, Silver and Gold.

This process takes almost 2 whole academic years and the bronze award is open to anyone of age 14 and above. Last year, in 2015, they gave us a full explanation of how this is going to work. DOFE (Duke of Edinburgh Award) has 4 parts in it – Service, Skill, Physical Recreation and the Adventurous Journey. Each section (except Adventurous Journey) has to be done for 16 weeks and the other one has to be done for 21 weeks. The sections have to be done regularly or you would be disqualified from the program.

We had to choose the people in our team beforehand and the maximum allowed in a group was 7. We also had training sessions which explained first aid, how to set up a tent, how to use a compass for bearings and routes and cooking. We had to pack our sleeping bag, our tent (which was shared between 2 or 3 people), food, washing kit, first-aid kit, rain coat, clothes and personal items. The hiking bag should add up to approximately a quarter of your weight. The food was planned in our group and each person was assigned to get each meal (I got the breakfast which consisted of cereals and milk). The food was to be packaged in a way where they occupied a small space and should have a small weight. For the expedition, we were not allowed to carry any electronic device such as mobile phones, speakers, etc. The trainees gave us two emergency phones that were to be used only if an individual in the group was in a very bad health state or if we were lost for 3 or 4 hours.

Thus, after almost 6 months of activities and training sections, a few of the participants were eliminated from the program due to irresponsibility, but most of us were headed to the Kuwait Desert for our practice expedition, which would give us an idea of what we should improve and how to save more time. We set off at 5:30 am on November 11 and came back the next day at 12 noon. The bus journey to the camping site was 2 hours. Once we got down, we started hiking. We had to go from one checkpoint to the other. There were 20 checkpoints in total. Our main objectives were to walk 15 km within 2 days, observe the geography, flora and fauna and to take pictures (cameras were used, not phones). The weather was indeed helpful in those days as it was windy and cold. As it was a very long distance to cover, some of us had multiple blisters including me. It was indeed very painful to walk at a fast pace with blisters and we only had 1 or 2 minutes of rest between each checkpoint. At the end of the day, we set up our tents in the campsite, cooked dinner and had a bonfire – which was the best part of the day. The next day, after a bit more hiking we were able to head back home. We wear all very tired and weary and we were all separated from the luxury and the comfort of our home. Adding to that, if we did not go to school the next day, we would be disqualified as it shows that we are not capable and cannot handle this.

After two weeks of evaluation and rest, we headed to Fujairah which was the qualifying expedition on November 24. We headed to the airport at 6:30 on a Thursday morning. After the luggage check – in and other usual processes, we got on to the flight. Dubai was only an hour away, so the flight was quite short. After all the processes, when we landed in Dubai, two travel buses were present to pick us up and drop us off at the main campsite at Fujairah called Eco venture. After an hour of the bus ride, we got to have lunch at McDonald’s which was the last meal consisting of junk food we had before the expedition. After another hour and a half, we reached Fujairah. One thing I noticed which was different in Kuwait was the color of the sand. In Fujairah, the color of the sand was surprisingly enough – orange. But in Kuwait, it was the usual golden-yellow. After the whole journey, we met the Eco venture workers and counselors. They had prepared for us 20 tents with 7 beds each. They had also made us dinner. But all these luxuries were only for one night. They advised us on what to do if we encounter a scorpion or any other animal and food management. For the rest of the time, we had to recheck our bearings with a compass, so that we wouldn’t get lost. The big deal about the Fujairah expedition was that we had to walk almost 25 kilometers. But within the same time as the Kuwait expedition. After that we had dinner and retired after the long and tiring but an amazing day.

The next day, we woke up at 5 am. We had to clean up the tents and the mattresses as the tents were set up on bare sand and it was pretty easy for the sand to collect into the tent. After the whole cleaning process, we had breakfast and set out again in the travel bus with our heavy hiking bags to the main checkpoint which was a few kilometers away. After the journey, we all headed to the main checkpoint for some final pieces of advice. All of us didn’t have the same routes so that won’t collide with each other and help each other out. We were also sent off at different timings.

When time arrived, we set off really quick to save as much time as possible. The first checkpoint was covered really quick giving us confidence and then we set off for the second one. Now, this one was a bit of a disaster as we met up with a couple of quite confused looking groups. We walked for a long time, only to reach a dead end surrounded by hills. We were really firm to our bearings, so we actually decided to climb a hill and cross it. It was extremely difficult with a heavy load on your back and your hands filled with maps and pencils. This means that even if you tripped you couldn’t use your hands to balance and if you let your maps go, there is a high possibility of them flying away from you due to the harsh wind. So we kept on climbing the steep, rocky hill. After the whole climbing process, we realized that it was a gorge. It was literally a vertical drop. We were in the verge of losing our lives. After that, we adjusted our bearings. After this adjustion, the most of the rest of the expedition was breezy. Our route was from Sana to Taybah, which consists mainly of breathtaking hills and gorges. The weather was also pleasant with the cloudy sky and the wind. But at one point of the expedition, we had to climb a hill with no paths, but this time we got it right. We felt as if we would be blown away due to the wind. In addition to that, one footstep gone wrong, could ultimately mean your death as it was a vertical drop. But we managed it.

We had lunch after a while, but we didn’t use any fuel to make the process simple and fast. And we set off really quick. We had to walk 4 more kilometers to the campsite. When we reached the campsite, we saw a lot of domesticated animals like donkeys, goats and cows. We also noticed that animals were treated badly. A lot of birds were put in small cages attached to the ground. Animals were tied to the ground. We could hear constant cries of animals. There were also many Indian workers who probably looked after the animals. We noticed that they were really skinny – obviously underfed and given low wages. It is indeed a racial inequality, where Indians are cheated in terms of employment. Every time, they are given low wages and treated in poor conditions that one would only comprehend if you witnessed it. Adding to that, most of these workers might have been told that they would get high salaries and reputable jobs if they migrated. Finally when they come to places like these, they realize the hard turn their life is going through. They are mostly cheated and are forced to work as farmers.

The campsite was on a rocky and hilly area. We set up our tents and had dinner. Some of us lit a bonfire on our own, including our group. The night sky was way more starlit compared to Kuwait, where if you spotted at least four stars, you would be lucky. The curfew was 9 pm, so we all had to retire to our tents early.

The next day was a bit more of a challenge as it was sunny and really hot. We also had a bit more kilometers pending from the previous day to finish. For breakfast, we just munched on granola bars to save time and we set off real quick. This day was way harder than the previous one as the weather was unbearable and one could not look straight ahead as it was very sunny. We walked for a few kilometers on rocks. It was really simple to get dehydrated here but everyone had several bottles of juice fortunately. We also saw several families having their breakfast with their cars nearby, and to be true we were really envious of them. From the next checkpoint onwards, we no longer walked on rocks, but instead – meandering roads that were woven around hills accompanied by many wadis ( of course they were dry). There were a lot of uphill routes that you had to endure along with the scorching heat. We were all sweating really hard and wished for it to end. Finally, after a very long period of 7 hours of continuous hiking, we reached the area where the travel buses were parked. We had to wrap our hiking bags to ensure that nothing would be lost. After all that, we got on the bus and were ready to leave for Kuwait. The flight was at 7:30 pm and we got on the bus at 3 pm. It was a 2 hour bus journey from Fujairah to the airport. The bus ride was really good as we finally got to rest. We reached the airport and we did the whole airport routine. We had almost two hours to do anything. We went to have dinner and the queue was really long which occupied at least one hour. We waited for another hour and boarded the plane for Kuwait – home.

As I said before, the DoFE Award has a lot of benefits. It is very valuable for your CV and helps us with our university applications. We also learnt many valuable life skills like being responsible, independent, problem solving, presentation and communication skills. We learn to strongly believe in ourselves, therefore increasing our confidence to a large extent. We learnt how to manage time efficiently and recognized our true strengths. We learnt true leadership skills and how to work as a team. I am satisfied and very sure that these acquired skills will definitely help me in my future and I would like to thank DoFE for providing such a great opportunity to youngsters worldwide for refining important personality traits and thus, resulting in a better future.

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