RYLA (Rotary Young-person Leadership Awards) 2021 finally took place after the previous year’s event had to be cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic. With two years for planning, we took the opportunity to introduce several changes to the program. The outcome was an amazingly successful RYLA with 115 participants and a vastly expanded number of volunteers helping.
 
For 2021, RYLA was supported primarily by the Rotary Clubs of Papakura, Drury and Manurewa plus other keen Rotarians. Awardees came from a wide range of backgrounds and of these 60% were paid for by corporate sponsors, companies who have become increasingly aware of the benefits of the course.
 
Covid created a new environment for managing the health considerations for planning and delivering programmes creating some new challenges in ensuring all those attending were free of any illness and the preliminary screening and cleaning of the premises was without precedent.
 
This year we introduced a substantial change in the introduction of past RYLA graduates as team leaders for the first two days of RYLA. Some teams of 12 had more than one leader and the improvement in the degree of engagement and bonding from the start was quite astounding.
 
Every morning at RYLA starts with an active gym session at 6.00am for an hour. This is a period of considerable challenge and hilarity for several the Awardees.
 
The usual range of high-quality speakers did a tremendous job of inspiring the audience; Cam Calkoen, Sue Blair, Michelle Dickinson, Phil Thompson, Kevin Biggar, Volcker Kuntzsch, Murray Thom and others. The New Zealand Army put on an excellent Sunday morning program to introduce awardees to the “subtleties” of military leadership with an array of practical experiences for each team to engage in.
 
Tuesday saw the introduction of the Social Enterprise business half day where the teams are asked to design a business which has commercial substance, but which also had community support goals, either in the way it does business or in the way it supports communities with specific needs. Some of these were focussed on the environment and others on helping people into productive work programs. This session is supported by experienced businesspeople, several of whom are Rotarians, and the presentation of real-life examples.
 
The Tuesday evening heralded the start of an overnight adventure that for most awardees is the highlight of RYLA.  This segment of RYLA is deliberately kept under wraps to add a degree of anticipation and mystery but is an extraordinary time for the awardees where they are challenged physically and mentally.  there is lots of hiking and activities irrespective of the time of day and weather conditions, which at this time of the year can be a challenge of itself and this year there was a good amount of rainfall and strong winds to contend with.
 
The support volunteers work through the night setting up the various evolutions scattered over an extended area as well as the supporting infrastructure
 
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Meanwhile the awardees “attempt” to set up and sleep in their Bivouac cover all in a steady stream of rain fall.
 
The arrival of the dawn brings a cacophony of sound “encouraging” the awardees to get organised and line up to receive both their cooked breakfasts and the additional equipment and rations they will be issued with. At 9.00am the action starts with planning and the teams of 10 set out in different directions under the guidance of their leaders to commence their challenges.
 
The day starts with light rain and gradually turns out to be fine which is excellent for drying a few things out as they move from place to place. The entire expedition area is a dispersed hive of activity during the day as the teams deal with a wide variety of challenging evolutions.
 
As sunset falls awardees to continue through the night. In the middle of the night there is a special food delivery made to all teams regardless of where they are located.
 
The completion and return of all the gear back to base is another hurdle as tired bodies and minds sometimes struggle to comprehend the instructions that are given. While this is all happening, the volunteers start the process of recovering all the equipment back onto the trailers and back to base. By far one of the most difficult jobs for the volunteers is cooking the final lunch, cleaning up and packing up to depart on time, followed closely by the awardee walking teams, most of whom are now in very high spirits.
 
On arrival back to camp there is a debrief followed by a run on the showers.
 
The next day, Friday, is effectively our last day of activity and the concentration is focussed on several Community Projects for the teams to complete. These entailed planting trees on a local reserve, running a food cooking and selling event at a local high school for their disability unit, Cleaning-up historic village sites, packing food parcels for the Salvation Army and visiting a local retirement village to work with residents to increase their ability to use modern cell phones and other electronic devices. Overall a very successful day which gave awardees an insight into community support and an understanding of some of the activities that Rotary does in the community.
 
In the evening we have the final Gala Dinner where many of the sponsoring Rotary clubs are present along with a few family and corporate sponsors to see and hear the awardees tell their stories of experience. This is really the culmination of the week and the final realisation that for all of the awardees the experience is coming to a close. This is also the realisation of all they have achieved together, the great lifelong friends they will have made and how much they may have to reflect on regarding both how much they have discovered about themselves and what they will now set out to do which may in turn change their lives.
 
On Saturday morning it is clean-up and reflection with many long-lasting goodbyes before they are collected for transportation back home for a good night’s sleep.

For more about RYLA go to www.ryla.co.nz or speak to your local Rotary club