On Monday 15 May we welcomed around 2,200 young people to Buckingham Palace for the first day of our Gold Award Celebrations. Amongst those was 19 year-old firefighter Ffion who delivered a powerful speech to young people and their guests before receiving her own Gold Award.
Firstly, I would like to start my speech by congratulating each person here today on completing their Gold Award. Today is a reflection on everyone’s hard work and dedication. I’m sure most of us can appreciate the fact there is not another mile to be walked or another endless hill to climb this morning.
Personally, from the small valleys town I have grown up in, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award wasn’t always viewed as an option for people in my area. A lot of families struggle to make ends meet, something that has become even more apparent in the current cost of living crisis. Buying walking equipment for a DofE Expedition was not always seen as a priority, but I am lucky enough to have a supportive family and college around me, which meant it was possible for me to do my DofE. I feel that most people do not realise that the DofE is more than just an award, it’s an investment in yourself. Your DofE signifies that you have the skills and experience needed to get yourself through challenging times, it shows you believe in yourself.
I never thought I would be able to do the Award and at first, when it was offered in my college, I didn’t want to do it. I feared the commitment and was content to stay within my ‘safe bubble’. Sometimes it’s easier to hide away from the things you fear instead of committing to them. 9-year-old me who could hardly read or write due to my dyslexia would never have believed I’d be standing here today, doing this speech. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you never know how things will alter your way of thinking and develop you as a person.
We can all appreciate that the DofE Expedition is very physically demanding, but it’s also a big mental battle. I had numerous blisters on my feet, but not one of them amounted to the mental struggles I had with myself halfway through an 8-hour walk. I can honestly hold up my hand and admit that I never thought walking would be the one thing that truly tested me. It was very much a fight within myself to keep going and find a reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other. After the first endless day, I thought it would be a good idea to ring my mam and tell her how it was going. I started by telling her about my painful feet, how I was thinking of giving up. But in the 24 hours I had been away from home, I’d forgotten that she is not a very sympathetic person – she brought me back to reality, and promptly told me that I’d better complete it, because she wants to see me at Buckingham Palace – well Mam, we’re here today!
Another great opportunity I got through my Gold DofE was to travel to Cambodia for two weeks to volunteer and help children who were struck by poverty and had little access to clean water and education. I was lucky enough for the experience to be fully funded by my college. One of my favourite memories from the trip was the comparison between the first and second day. The first day we were all in shock, as we were treated to a 5-star hotel with a swimming pool, air conditioning and a double bed to ourselves. Unfortunately, reality hit on day two when we travelled into Battambang where our actual camp was. Here we were greeted by bunk beds, a plastic fan that hardly worked, and no toilet paper… just a water gun.
It was one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had the privilege of doing. It was amazing to see the children developing their skills everyday, experience a different culture and understand their beliefs and way of living. Sharing memories with new people who were complete strangers at the start, to being able to remember this adventure for the rest of our lives. It was unbelievable to witness how they were willing to teach and show us everything, but it was their generosity, despite not being financially well off themselves, that really inspired me the most. It was a privilege to have this experience, and it wouldn’t have been possible without The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
I am grateful for the lessons I have learnt while completing my Gold Award. It has not only made me more confident as a person, it has enabled me to trust my capabilities. Completing this award was not my last goal, and shortly after my Gold Expedition I was lucky enough to join the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service as an On-call Firefighter. Joining the services was probably one of the scariest and most exciting things I have ever done. Everyone told me it was going to be difficult as it’s a male-dominated role, and I was going to have to push myself and prove I was just as good as them. I felt a lot of pressure, but I was surprised to find that throughout my training I was not treated any differently: I was part of the team. However, there are still very few women within the service, and I am always excited when I see another woman on the same shout as me. As of March 2022 still just 8.2% of firefighters across the whole brigade in England identify as female – meaning out of 31,064 firefighters employed, only 2,862 of us are women.
Finally, I would like to say to everyone here today: congratulations on all your hard work. Continue to say yes to things as you never know where it may take you! I bet many people here today thought that the DofE wasn’t for them, me included, but I’m glad it proved our expectations wrong. Thank you to all of the DofE Leaders and Volunteers out there, who are working so hard to make sure the DofE is accessible to all young people. It’s important to remember, carry on developing and pushing yourselves to your next goal, whatever that may be.
Thank you all. Diolch.