2016 saw the launch of the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Award at The Gulf English School. This award teaches young people self-reliance, leadership, teamwork, and practical skills such as navigation and camping.  There are various parts to the award – a physical activity, community work, a skill, and the expedition. The expedition at Bronze level is two days walking for 6 hours a day and camping overnight.

To prepare the students for the expedition we organised an orienteering day at Sheikh Faisal’s Farm. The students had to navigate around the farm to various waypoints using a map and compass while carrying a rucksack. At each station, they had to collect a tag and read the directions to the next waypoint. The students found this a very difficult exercise and many wondered if it would be possible complete the main expedition which would be much more challenging.

The practise expedition was held at the Ras Abrouq peninsula. The students walked from the edge of the nature reserve to the Film City and then to the Mystery Village where they camped for the night. A teacher accompanied each group on the first day to motivate them– Mr. Clark and Mr. Wilson were the lucky two. On the second day, the students navigated to the coast, then crossed the peninsular and finally walked to the coast guard station where the teachers had organised a BBQ to celebrate their tremendous achievement of having walked nearly 30 km in two days while carrying a 15kg (or more!) rucksack. This trek was in hot weather and across rough terrain. The boys and the staff found this hard going but were very satisfied with their success.

The final expedition was held in the south of Qatar near the Inland Sea. This expedition was unaccompanied and required much more accurate navigation. The area chosen lacked easy reference points such as coasts and clear roads. This meant that the boys had to rely on a map, a compass and a route card they had prepared at school. The only features that helped the boys were a couple of communication towers and some sand dunes. This presented some problems – communication towers and dunes all look alike! It should be noted that the boys did not have access to GPS or mobile phones for the duration of the expedition.

The expedition started with a trek towards the first dune where Mr Clark and Mr. Willem stood eagerly awaiting any sign of the students. Like a vision from Lawrence of Arabia, the boys emerged from the desert. They proceeded to navigate from dune to dune to tower to camel farm to the camp site in the leeside of a particularly impressive dune.

The students learnt that the sand could make a nice soft, flat surface to camp on if it was spread on the rough desert floor. On every expedition, everyone learnt something new. The evening ended with the traditional roasted marshmallows and a campfire.

The second day was cool and slightly wet, which was unusual for the desert. The students navigated quickly and efficiently – they had obviously mastered the challenges of map and compass navigation. The teachers were confident that the expedition would succeed and were happy to wait for the students at the final destination (previously we had kept a close eye on them). The day finished with the customary BBQ, which was made all the sweeter by the knowledge that a group of young boys who had wandered confused around a farm a few months ago, were now be confident in their ability to march over 20 km a day using just a map and compass. This was truly a great achievement.