A record number of students from Bangkok Patana School (BPS) completed the arduous International Award Association Gold Award programme this year.
From left: Bangkok Patana School students Steve Cui, Lawrence Lancaster, Ben McKeever, Penda Sisopha, Johanna Wilms, Beatrice Hunt and Laura Goudswaard take a break during their hike along the MacLehose Trail in Hong Kong, which was part of their International Award Association Gold Award activities. SALLY MADDEN
In a ceremony held on June 3, 31 proud Year-13 students were presented certificates by the renowned Bangkok-based writer and explorer Steve Van Beek, whose book Slithering South, about a 58-day journey down the Chao Phraya River from its source to the sea, has been described as "the best travel book ever written about Thailand".
Mr Van Beek praised the independence, courage and determination BPS students demonstrated throughout the 12- to 24-month-long award process, which requires students to perform voluntary services, improve their fitness, learn or improve a skill, and spend a week in a residential programme, as well as plan and embark on an adventurous expedition, either on foot, by bicycle or by kayak.
"You have shown a desire to test yourselves physically, mentally and emotionally, and to define who you are by what you can do," Mr Van Beek told the students.
"Exploring is about people as well as places: you learn about people from other cultures, but of course, what you really learn most about is yourself," he added.
Matt Mills, the Head of School, said the Gold Award was a huge amount of work to shoulder while simultaneously preparing for the International Baccalaureate exams, but the fact that so many students were willing to take on the challenge gave him an incredible sense of pride in their generation.
"The history of the International Award is about going the extra mile and giving it all you've got," he said.
"You look at the newspapers and the news seems to be all negative. There are so many problems in the world. What gives me hope is that we have individuals like these 31 students who are problem solvers, team players and who work together to find solutions."
Gold Award students this year went on multi-day kayaking trips in Thailand; climbed mountains that included Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, the highest peak in Southeast Asia; and trekked for days through the jungles of Koh Chang and along the MacLehose Trail in Hong Kong.
"The expeditions are challenging, but at the end of the day, they are worth it - you are doing something completely out of your normal comfort zone," said Sahar Kazemini, who kayaked near Koh Chang, Koh Samet, Phangnga Bay and Trang province in the Adventurous Journey section of the award.
"I was always curious about doing adventurous stuff, but I never appreciated how much planning and organisation it requires."
Sally Madden, the Head of Outdoor Education and the driving force behind the International Award at Bangkok Patana School, said the students would look back fondly on their expeditions, but that these were just one part of a wide-ranging programme.
"This is a massive achievement for the students and I am very proud of them," she said.
"In the Residential section, the charity Habitat for Humanity was a popular choice, with students working as a team for five days to build houses for poorer communities in Thailand.
"Lots of students played sport for a school team in the Physical Recreation section, and those who weren't so sporty went for ultimate frisbee. In the Skills section, many musical students learned a new instrument, while others learned to drive, improved their language skills, debated at the Model United Nations or learned to cook.
"In the Service section, some students gave up their time to raise money for various charities, while others got involved with the Soi Dog Rescue Centre, or taught younger children at a Thai school.
"One of the great things about the Award is that students can tailor the programme to meet their own interests, and this was reflected in the amazing range of activities undertaken. I know that as well as having some wonderful memories, they have developed skills and confidence that universities and employers alike will be looking for in the future," Ms Madden concluded.