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EDWARD PRAISES YOUTH

By RESHMA BAAL and Lara Pickford-Gordon Wednesday, February 29 2012

click on pic to zoom in

The Earl and Countess of Wessex, Prince Edward and Princess Sophie, had a chuckle during the signing of the visitors’ book at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s yesterday when they saw the signature of the head of the only communist state in the Caribbean, Cuban President Raoul Castro was the last signature in the book before theirs.

As the Prince recognised Castro’s signature, he seemed impressed and drew Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s attention to it.

She made light of the observation and explained that Castro had visited for the Caricom-Cuba Summit in December.

The royal couple was at the Diplomatic Centre to attend a luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister to welcome them to Trinidad and Tobago (TT).

Before this, the Prince and Princess were given a taste of local culture at the start of a two-day tour of the country.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Rosalie, carrying the royals and other dignitaries, docked at the Cruise Ship Complex in Port-of-Spain at 6 am.

A Guard of Honour, comprising members of the Trinidad and Tobago Cost Guard, marched onto the dock at the side of the huge naval ship, where they awaited the Prince and Princess. They were later joined by Minister of National Security John Sandy and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications Dr Surujrattan Rambachan.

The Prince and Princess descended the gangway at 10 am.

This was the beginning of the royal couple’s visit to TT, bringing messages from Queen Elizabeth II in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee—60 years as Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and head of the Commonwealth.

Prince Edward, dressed in a grey suit, and Princess Sophie, casually dressed in a cream and black polka dot blouse and cream skirt, were greeted by Sandy and Rambachan.

After this, the royal couple was invited to inspect the Guard of Honour, following which a small cultural programme was held on the dock.

Members of the Jeunes Agape Choir performed a medley of local songs expressing national pride.

The performance, enjoyed by the visiting contingent, was followed by a chutney song sung by Ramdeen “Falco” Maharaj.

Maharaj introduced the royal couple to terms such as “obeah” and local culinary delights such as “polourie” and “doubles”.

The royal couple and other visiting British personnel were then wowed by the North West Laventille Folk Group as they performed a limbo dance.

The visiting group expressed surprise and amazement at the moves of the limbo dancers.

Following the cultural show, the visiting contingent departed the Cruise Ship Complex to Knowsley, Queen’s Park West, Port-of-Spain where they met President George Maxwell Richards and were guests of the President’s Award ceremony where the achievements of youths in areas from community service to sport were honoured.

Prince Edward and Princess Sophie arrived at Knowsley at 11.05 am and were saluted by the honour guard. They were greeted by the President who said, “I wish you a warm welcome.” They proceeded to the private sitting room before the awards ceremony which started at 11.45 am.

Speaking without a text, Prince Edward told award recipients, “I hope as you look back you feel this award has made a difference in your life and you are now equipped for whatever life may throw at you in the future and you will go on to make a difference to other people and young people’s lives as well.”

Although on the programme Prince Edward was scheduled to speak after Richards, he asked to speak after the awards were presented.

Prince Edward first congratulated the 23 gold award recipients and applauded them.

They were standing at this time and he advised them to sit down and relax, and also apologised for changing the order of the award programme.

Prince Edward hoped participants felt the President’s Award programme was worthwhile and they enjoyed themselves. He said, “about halfway through your expeditions, or adventurous journey you were probably beginning to think just why you were doing it but, it is a great feeling in the end isn’t it. So, well done,” he told the audience comprising recipients, their parents and guardians.

He thanked the President for hosting and presiding over the awards and the ministers in attendance.

Minister of National Security John Sandy and Minister of Foreign Affairs Surujrattan Rambachan were present.

“It’s all very well these young people going through all the efforts of striving to achieve an award but the fact that it is recognised at this level by ministers as well being present makes it all worthwhile for these young people,” the Prince said.

He thanked Richards for his kind remarks for the Queen, on her diamond jubilee and said he would convey them. Prince Edward said various celebrations were taking place and he congratulated TT on its 50th anniversary of independence, which will be observed on August 31.

“It’s a very special year for you so I am delighted to be here this year and to celebrate a little of the celebrations as well.”

The Prince said his father the Duke of Edinburgh was sorry not to be present in person but liked sending him (Edward) out on assignment. This evoked chuckles. He said he had also received a gold award through the Duke of Edinburgh award programme.

“Although my experiences would have been entirely different to what these young people have done. The ultimate achievements are much the same.”

He thanked the persons who supported the award recipients saying their achievement would have been a team effort through involvement of parents and teachers.

“I hope you can share a little bit in the pride of watching these young people come up and collect their awards today.”

Prince Edward welcomed awardees to the National Association and International Association of Gold Award holders. After the formalities were over, the Prince mingled with the award recipients and greeted audience members.

In his address President Richards said the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was the forerunner to the President’s Award and the name change occurred after TT became a Republic in 1976. He said TT was happy to be involved in the programme.

“We have developed 12 groups in TT, with annual participation of about 300 young persons,” said Richards. The 12 groups include cadets, and scouts. Annually, 15 to 20 persons receive gold medals and more get silver and bronze.

He said, “our thrust is to get as many of our youth on board in an environment that enables character building.”

Richards said TT was honoured to have the visit and share in the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s most important milestone. The President’s Award programme is open to persons between the ages of 14 and 25-years-old. National Director, Patricia Pierre-Joseph, said interested persons must register and to be eligible for the Gold award participants had to be in the programme for “at least” 18 months.

She said personnel assisted youths in pursuit of their field of interest whether music or sport. Participants also are involved in hikes and expeditions. Supervisors provide reports on their progress.

Gold medal recipient Dana Ellis, 24, got involved in the President’s award programme five years ago. She is currently at Metal Industries Ltd and is training for a leadership role. Commenting on the programme she said, “it teachers you how to handle stuff you do not come across in every day life and it is a good programme I recommend to all our youths.”

Mickey Anandee, 23, who is pursuing a Masters degree in petroleum engineering at the University of TT described the experience as a great ride. He met new people and gained new experiences travelling around the Caribbean.

Later, after their engagement with the President’s Award recipients, Prince Edward and Princess Sophie were welcomed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the Diplomatic Centre where she hosted a luncheon for the royal couple.

Persad-Bissessar, noting the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and this country’s 50th independence anniversary this year, assured TT remains committed to the Commonwealth and the principles of democracy, good governance and equality for all.

She spoke of TT’s role as the chair of the Commonwealth Connects Steering Committee (CCSC) and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

TT, she said, was also committed to advancing the cause of matters affecting women, the youth and children.

Persad-Bissessar noted the Queen’s praise of the Commonwealth when the heads of the nations met in Trinidad in Port-of-Spain in 2009. The Queen had observed that the Commonwealth “can be proud of the fact that in each of its six decades, it has shaped the international response to emerging global challenges”.

Persad-Bissessar commended the Queen for her commitment to the Commonwealth saying she has earned the respect of leaders and people around the world.

The Prime Minister said trade ties between TT and the United Kingdom remained strong, and looked forward to a deepening of the partnership, which she felt the visit of Prince Edward and Princess Sophie demonstrated.

After two days of events, the royal couple will depart Trinidad and Tobago this evening.

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