An inspirational speech has given one teenager from sunny Cairns the opportunity to meet the Earl and Countess of Wessex in England. 

The Duke of Edinburgh Award head office chose 18 year old Cairns student Keira* for the honour after hearing her speak about the positive impact of the scheme on indigenous youth in Cairns.

It’s an amazing achievement for the once shy Cairns teenager – and a shining example of the award’s focus to help young people fulfil their potential.

Now that she’s completed the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award – its highest level – Keira is keen to give back to the community.

“She’s going to volunteer with the Dukes and help run the camps for the young people,” said Edward Lampton, Program Coordinator of the Duke of Edinburgh at Nintiringanyi Cultural Training Centre (NCTC) in Cairns.

The NCTC runs the “Duke of Ed” scheme for indigenous youth in the Cairns area – people who often struggle with problems that include drug and alcohol abuse, transiency and homelessness.

Established in 1956, the award is made up of four parts: Adventurous Journey, Physical Recreation, Service, and Skills.

Each year participants attend at least two camps, varying in length from two days and one night for the Bronze Award, to four days and three nights for Gold. The NCTC kids love these camps, said Edward.

“It takes them away from home. They enjoy walking through the bush and playing games while they’re trying to hike.”

However, it’s the volunteer work that has the biggest impact on young people in the program by encouraging personal growth and teaching them to care for one another.

“It brings out a different aspect that I don’t normally see with the young people that we work with,” said Edward.  “They work really well together.”

To complete the service element of their award, most Duke of Edinburgh participants at NCTC help out at the centre, setting up for the programs held during the week, getting equipment ready and preparing food. 

Among the families of the young people who come to the centre, money is often tight. However, a grant from the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation helps cover award costs such as the cost of camps and equipment needed to learn a new skill.

“We buy the equipment and enable them to come here to the centre and learn the activities,” Edward said.

NCTC is set to continue expanding the horizons of the young people, with more camps planned in 2014. “One of the Gold participants wants to do a 4 day island-hopping sea kayak. That’s going to be a big thing for us,” said Edward. 

* not her real name