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Legacy: Inside Prince Philip's character-building programme

Little is known about an international award programme that has shaped the lives of thousands of Kenyans over the decades.

Established by the late Prince Philip (pictured), Duke of Edinburgh in 1956, The Duke of Edinburgh International Award, known as the President’s Award in Kenya, spread roots from the United Kingdom in the late 1950s to more than 130 countries and set up in Kenya in 1966.

Prince Philip was the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. He served in the second world war, in the navy and was a great sports enthusiast. The prince died on April 9, at the age of 99.

The programme imparts skills in youth that would otherwise not be learned in class. During the launch of the President's Award in 1956, Prince Philip envisioned a world where young people would engage in a wide range of interests in what he called “a do it yourself grow up kit.”

It was designed to challenge young people to experience the Prince's life of adventure and service. Father Paul Mimbi, 68, a priest and Chaplain of Strathmore Business school says the President’s Award sharpened him to be the man he is today.

“The award prepares you for life,” says Fr Mimbi.

He notes that leadership is the foundation of the programme and this led to his vocation as a priest.

“I owe so many things in my life to the award,” says Mimbi.

President's Award Kenya executive director Nellie Munala says, “It’s a non-formal education framework building young people’s character".

The award which is essentially a club established in different institutions from secondary schools to universities, rehabilitation centres and prisons, targets participants aged between 14 and 24.

It focuses on four key objectives, improving physical activity through sports, dance or fitness activities, developing a skill, volunteering to serve the community and participating in an expedition such as climbing a mountain.

“A lot of it is about values,” says Munala, adding that, “we get young people rounded in terms of character, talent and skill.”

Participants are taught about building confidence, teamwork and developing resilience and problem-solving abilities.

In the education framework, learners are presented with a challenge, helped in developing a skill of their choice and at the end of the programme, they are required to give back to the community. 

And at the end, the participant gets a non-formal certificate signed by the President.

"During the community service, we built a school in Maralal," recalls Mimbi.

“Such a certificate can give a participant an edge in the job market coupled with the skills already developed,” says Munala.

To reach the pinnacle of the programme, a participant has to go through the bronze stage which takes six months, silver one year and gold two years.

Gold award holder Lenin Manga recounts how the programme inspired him to learn tae kwon do and later work as a volunteer.

“The programme teaches you a lot. You learn to push yourself, work as a team and challenge others,” says Manga, who joined the programme in 2010 while studying at the United States International University.

Mimbi credits the programme for preparing him to face life.

"One of the things the scheme helps us to do is developing good habits. I still carry those habits and hobbies learned during my time in the programme," he says.

“Up to now, I can do 10km in 55 minutes or less,” says the priest who cycles for between 70 to 100km every week.

Mimbi emphasises the benefits of maintaining a routine in life.

“Character building is one of the best things you can give to a person,” he says.

The programme also requires participants to engage in expeditions and community service to test their teamwork, leadership, perseverance and independence skills.

Mimbi recounts an expedition on Mt Kenya where a teammate from Madagascar suffered pulmonary edema, a condition where fluid collects in air sacs in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

In the dead of the night, the team found a stretcher, loaded the man and descended the mountain. By the time they got to the bottom, the teammate was in good shape.

The goal is to take participants out of their comfort zone and have them work as volunteers while using novel initiatives to solve problems.

In Nyeri prison, inmates participating in the programme have been working to rehabilitate Chania River.

Mimbi challenges other leaders to initiate such programmes to mentor the youths.

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