Sometimes in life, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. Thinking about my Award experience and how it affected me, my thoughts immediately went to the grand ideas of leadership and self-discovery. Connecting the dots of the different experiences of my life and intertwining them with skills learnt from my Award journey required me to look at my own life journey from a third perspective: What do I want to say?
It all started when I got a call to serve on a disaster management team as a photographer. I had to report to a disaster operations centre in interior BC in less than 24 hours. Nine days later, I was driving to landslides and washouts across the Cariboo district, documenting road repair and recovery. During my work, I got an email from the media team of the Award, asking if I could write a guest blog post for them as an alumna. Considering the request, I spent the 6-hour drive back to my hotel room thinking of all my experiences in high school.
On the surface, my current excursion put me in mind of my Adventurous Journey. Rewind to 16 years ago, our group of four had boarded a train travelling through small villages and mountains to get to our base. As luck would have it, someone yanked on the chain too many times and the driver did not stop at our station! We ended up at a station ahead of our destination and started our journey with an extra 15-km hike up a mountain. That grueling hike taught me the importance of adaptability, a lesson that has been serving me well through my time in the disaster management team.
The Award as a Participant
I did not want to sign up for the Award when I first heard about it. It seemed like too much outdoor work, and I loved the library a lot. But my mother (who has immense foresight, bless her heart) thought that this would serve as a good change of pace from my usual activities and convinced me to sign up.
As anyone who knew me when I was 13/14 can attest, getting me to do any outdoor activity was not the easiest task. When I joined after-school volleyball lessons for my Physical Recreation, I did not expect to enjoy the game as much as I did. Starting out as an asthmatic kid wheezing along behind the rest of the team, I slowly developed my stamina and skills until I could complete our morning runs along with the rest. While I did not compete past high school, I do enjoy running every week and I can thank my coach for letting me discover the joys of running on my own.
Conversely, I relished my Skill – music. As an amateur singer (and hailing from a musical family), I did not have much faith in my own musical skills. Setting aside time to practice helped me develop a daily regimen and I can honestly say that consistent effort helped me discover a lifelong love for music that took me across continents, culminating in an eight-year stint as an opera singer in Los Angeles.
Hard skills aside, the Award helped me discover what I wanted to do with my music, and especially, singing. I recall an incident during my Gold Project, helping a woman’s group rebuild the village school and clean out a thicket for a schoolyard. It was the penultimate night of our stay, and we volunteers had cooked a traditional meal for our hosts, to thank them for their graciousness. At the meal, our supervisor mentioned that I had a good voice and a fondness for singing. Thinking of our work, I opted to sing an inspirational song (and a recent film hit) that spoke of obstacles and gaining the strength to conquer them. After a nervous bout of singing, I looked up to find my hosts, tear-filled and yet smiling. Only then did our group learn that the men of the village had harassed the women and torched their warehouse and wares to intimidate them! After dinner, I had many of the group approach me and thank me for putting their struggle into words. As a professional singer, to this day, I’m thankful to the Award for giving me that experience and schooling me on the main reason why I sing: for my audience.
The section that had the most impact on my teenage mind was the Adventurous Journey. Hikes to various forests and caves set my country and its natural beauty in a new light. I can never forget the moments walking in the forests of Kodai and chancing upon a herd of wild elephants. Or learning to rappel down a sheer rock face, one slow hop at a time. Or sliding down a (very!) muddy trail in the pouring rain like a waterslide.
Parts of the Award have followed me through my journey to Canada, where I am able to indulge my sense of adventure. Growing up in a crowded city, I did not have the opportunity to hike, sleep in tents and rough it out in the wild. The Award gave me a glimpse into the joys of the wild outdoors. 15 years later, my life in northern BC affords me the opportunity to go on weekend hikes and enjoy the wilderness that is British Columbia.
The Award also awakened in me a yearning to say ‘Yes’ to every adventure that came along in my life. That impulse led to two solo international moves (and one halfway across the world!), a career in opera and government, and many, many stories to share.
“The Award also awakened in me a yearning to say ‘Yes’ to every adventure that came along in my life.”
The Award as an Award Leader
So, while looking at volunteer opportunities, championing the cause of the Award seemed like a natural next step. As I realized early, being an Award Leader is a lot of routine emails and small interactions that lead to a far bigger reward – watching Participants grow as young adults, and emerge the other side of the Award as better people. I see Participants who have their hikes disrupted and make it work anyway. I see Participants who give back to society even though their world has turned upside down in the last two years. I see Participants who set aside time every week and develop their skills to an incredible level. I see Participants who set goals and achieve them and more!
But the Award does not mean giving back alone. I have learned a lot in my interactions with current and past Participants. I have honed my skills in communication while mentoring Participants and talking them through their Award journeys. I have used empathy and diplomacy while dealing with Participants’ issues. I have gained experience that has contributed to my career, sometimes in direct ways. In a memorable interview for my current position, I answered with a story from my Award days of 15 years ago when asked about dedication, focusing on my Skill and consistent practice.
And it’s not in interviews alone. I use soft skills developed during my Award journey in my work and in my personal life. As a teacher, I must communicate effectively to know how to get the best out of my students. As a member of the public service, I speak with many stakeholders every day, using tact and diplomacy. In my personal life, I try to lead by example in living my life with honesty and integrity.
Working with Participants across the province, I get nostalgic and simultaneously hopeful for current and future Participants. I cannot wait for when they will reminisce about the Award like I do. As an Award Leader, I get to tell my story to Participants and inspire them to weave their own tapestries. I hope to educate Participants on the boundless possibilities that the Award offers. I had no idea the Award would influence my life as much as it did. And if I can impress upon one person its influence and impact on me, I will have done my job right.
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Ramya Mukund is a dedicated public servant and music teacher, who loves playing with drones and learning languages in her spare time. Currently, she is working on getting her amateur radio license. Her Award ‘career’ achievements include the Gold Award, and working with The Award in Canada as an Award Leader and media content creator.Read More Stories