DUBAI // Nothing could teach 17-year-old Orla Gibson how to withstand adversity better than a night in a flooded tent in the middle of an island rainforest in South East Asia.
Along with 28 classmates from the Emirates International School in Jumeirah, Orla braced the torrential rain and rough terrain of Borneo recently. Along the way, she says, she learnt the importance of teamwork.
The expedition was for her gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, also called the International Award for Young People. The award aims to create an active and socially aware society of young people between 14 and 24 through tasks that take them out of their comfort zone.
"It was more intense than the previous adventures and it pushed all of us to the extreme," said Orla, who has previously won the bronze and silver awards. The gold level is harder and activities in its four sections - volunteering, physical, skills and expedition - take longer.
"But it was rewarding because while navigating the jungle paths it helped me understand what teamwork meant," she said. "It taught us how to resolve conflicts and overcome obstacles."
She said the journey changed the way she viewed the world and her sheltered life.
"The very fact that we were sleeping in flooded tents made me realise what a privileged life I lead in the UAE," she said.
Veera Bukshi, another member of the group, said the challenge made her more self-reliant.
"We did so many things we would normally never do," she said. "We had to put up our own hammocks and cook [for] ourselves. In our 10-day visit we scaled cliffs, did water rafting, cycling and even walked with our feet sunk in manure, we did it all."
She said the award would look good on her CV, too. "But some of the actions and service you need to do also then become a way of life."
Stephen Munnery, the award co-ordinator, who also teaches physical education at the school, said it was a way of getting the pupils outdoors and instilling life skills.
"They need to get away from the computer games and get some physical activity in nature," he said. "The course helps build their personal characteristics."
He said it made them more independent and better able to persevere.
Many children here were looked after by nannies and maids, he said, and the scheme "makes them grow up" and become adventurous rather than couch potatoes.
"We have had many more students show an interest in such activities, with over 200 signing up for various expeditions," he said. "So if they have more opportunities, they will be up for the challenge."