MORE than 30 young, local adventurers called the Borders Exploration Group, who travelled to Cuba in July, described their experiences to their sponsors in Langholm on Sunday.
This year, the South of Scotland Youth Awards Trust (SSYAT) made 29 awards totalling £10,450, with 18 going to the Borders and 11 to Dumfries and Galloway.
The awards enable applicants aged from 16 to 24 to set off abroad, many for the first time, to experience life in foreign countries on projects designed to benefit less-developed communities and help the underprivileged.
Seventeen award winners were able to attend the SSYAT reception at the Buccleuch Centre, and gave short presentations in front of parents, donors and trustees. The biggest group present came from the Borders Exploration Group, of whom 14 had been part-funded by the SSYAT.
Led by 22-year-old Claire Law from Ancrum and Terri McGuigan, 23, from Hawick, a total of 32 venturers from Walkerburn, Earlston, Kelso, Bonchester Bridge and Hawick each raised £2,000 to head off for three weeks in Cuba.
The audience heard that getting to know the Cubans and their way of life involved a variety of activities, from salsa dancing to helping the local community centre cut the grass with machetes.
“In the evening, the young Cubans joined us and we had a fantastic evening dancing,” said Claire. “They taught us salsa and we taught them some popular Scottish dances.”
This was followed by an educational phase learning about the history of Cuba.
“This helped everyone piece together what happened in the country during the years of the revolution, and how it shaped Cuban life today,” she said.
The crew then spent a week in the rural community of La Platica, working with the national park rangers to plant trees and rebuild footpaths and protective railings.
Finally, the adventure phase saw the whole group go on a two-day expedition climbing the highest peak in Cuba, Mount Pico Turquino, two-and-a-half times the height of Ben Nevis.
“We were all very proud when every member of our group reached the top,” said Claire. “All in all I had a great time in Cuba and I think the people I was with made the trip even more special.”
“So often the stories of our young are negative – drugs, drink and petty crime,” said the SSYAT’s Gerard Henry. “Claire and her fellow Borderers are typical of what is fine and positive. They are our future and we have every reason to be proud of them.
“SSYAT is proud to have part-funded Claire and 14 of her fellow venturers. SSYAT has been funding 17 to 25-year-olds for more than 20 years, and makes up to 30 awards a year with the aim of ‘helping the best achieve the most’.
“Without the sponsors’ generosity, the 379 young people sent off on their travels with the help of the SSYAT awards since 1991 might never have achieved what they have.
“Fundraising is a huge hurdle in many cases, especially when a number are going out from the same small rural area where resources are necessarily limited. For someone going off with Project Trust for instance, the applicant needs to find around £5,000.”
For details on how to donate or apply, visit www.weatherstone.biz/ssyat. Applications need to be received by early December.