For a moment in time likely forever etched in the minds of young Bahamian girls, a world of differences between lifestyles melted as a member of the royal family watched teens in one of the toughest areas of The Bahamas cut a banana tree, bake a pie and make soap from scratch.

The occasion was a visit by HRH Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, to the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls, a facility supervised by the Bahamas Department of Social Services. The royal’s visit to the home away from home was part of a two-day high energy tour, familiarizing themselves with the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA) special project operation at the centre, the local operator of what in internationally known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. In 2021, the GGYA was able to acquire a grant from the Award Foundation’s Special Project Fund, to provide the programme to five centres in New Providence and Grand Bahama.  The Duke and Duchess were keen to experience the Award in action at some of these centres. 

Prince Edward assumed leadership of the program that involves more than one million participants in 130 countries worldwide after the passing of his father, Prince Phillip. 

The Bahamas renamed the program to reflect local culture and leadership, but the requirements and the life skills and community contribution lessons participants take away from it remain intact. Distinct steps graduating in difficulty and length lead to bronze, silver and gold awards and these awards can open doors for a lifetime.

Superintendent of the centre, Mrs. Monique Greenslade, laments, “We want people to know that there are positive things happening at Willie Mae Pratt.  It’s not just about locking up the girls.  It is more about what we do here to provide opportunities for them to be successful and confident about what life can be after they leave here. We are doing that!”

Despite the personal struggles of many of the girls in the facility, six have volunteered to take on the challenge of doing GGYA and for the first time, a Willie Mae Pratt Centre student and resident recently achieved a bronze award.

A young teen at the Willie Mae Pratt Center for Girls eagerly shares her crochet art work with HRH Dutchess Sophie, who joins in with a few stiches of her own “The visit by the Duchess meant a lot to the girls,” explained Syneisha Bootle, the GGYA leader at the school and herself an award recipient from her high school days elsewhere. “It was an opportunity for them to showcase what they had been working so hard on, and to express themselves and show they are not what they are there for, but what they dream of becoming.” As the Duchess toured various workstations, she commented on the level of skills from crocheting and sewing to baking a pie, harvesting bananas from a banana tree to extract the edible pulp, to making a bar of soap from local ingredients found around the facility grounds.
HRH Duchess Sophie comfortably steps in the kitchen to help a young teen pour batter for bread at the Willie Pratt Centre for Girls

Founder of The Dignified Girl Project, who partners with GGYA to provide skills and service opportunities in personal development and mental health workshops, Philippa Dean explains, “These girls need so much more than to simply be locked away, and we do them a grave disservice in society when we even think that they cannot aspire to more than this stumbling block in their life.  Our work with these girls can hopefully allow them to still see value and worth in themselves.”

Last Fall, with the assistance of Mrs. Dean, the girls were able to package some fifty personal care items and feminine products to the Guidance Department of the Anatol Rodgers Senior High School.

As two worlds meshed in those moments during the visit, the Duchess said she saw hope and dreams in the eyes of the girls.

“All have met me in the eye and have spoken clearly and capably when speaking with me,” said the Duchess. “All anyone ever wants for themselves is to be the best of themselves, and if that means that they come here (to reach that point), it is a good thing.”

She prided the teens with dreams for the dignity they displayed.

Minister of Social Services Obediah Wilchcombe summed it up.

“Their past is past,” he said. “Their future is our focus.”

And that future got a boost of encouragement from a visit by a royal who looked them right back in the eye with an expression that said she believed in them.  

HRH Duchess Sophie toured the gardens at the Willie Pratt Centre for Girls accompanied by Minister of Social Services, Hon. Obediah Wilchcombe, and helped harvest a lovely bunch of bananas grown by the girls

Source: DPA News


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