My name is Tiffani, and I am a Kokoda Kid.
You might be scratching your head as you know me not as a ‘kid’, but as a part of the Kokoda Youth Foundation working team. However, journey with the foundation started back in 2015, when I became a Kokoda Challenge Youth Program (KCYP) Kokoda Kid.
I first heard about the program during a school assembly. A representative from the foundation gave a presentation about a “life changed opportunity” that would “help me reach my full potential”. At the oh so wise age of 15, I thought to myself “how could some program promise so much?” and pushed the program to the back of my head.
A few weeks later during a careers and university expo, I realized the opportunities that program presented. The words ‘extracurricular activities’ and ‘leadership’ reoccurred up in conversations about university, scholarships and future employment. So that afternoon while feeling motivated and driven I completed the application to become a Kokoda Kid, “surly this would tick the extracurricular box” I thought. Little did I know that I had just taken the first step in a journey that would change the direction of my life.
Before I knew it, I had been accepted into the program began training with my Tweed KCYP team. Every Wednesday we met at the Tweed Heads PCYC and completed our fitness training. This was followed by conversation around the history of Kokoda, something that I surprisingly became very engrossed in. Our team met again each Sunday at 4:30am for hiking training. It’s funny, now that I look back on the hikes, I don’t remember the grueling hills, endless false peaks, early wake ups and sore muscles. The memories that flood back are of the stories shared whilst hiking, the endless laughter and the feeling of being supported by my team. During our breaks we would listen to stories of the Kokoda campaign, learning about the four pillars of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. Each week, the spirit of Kokoda grew within our group.
Before I knew it, my team had completed the 96km Kokoda Challenge finishing in 32 hours and 31 minutes. To us, it didn’t matter the time we finished in, it only mattered that we finished together. After completing the challenge, we swapped our camelbacks for trekking packs and commenced our pack training. Our packs got heavier each week as we conditioned ourselves for the KCYP peak experience, walking the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
I remember feeling excited and nervous at the airport. Despite all the training we did to prepare for the trek, there was still a fear of the unknown. After a couple of cuddles from mum and dad, we said goodbye and walked towards the security gates. We were on our way to walk in the footsteps of the diggers.
Each day on the track presented a new challenge. The humidity was indescribable, the hills appeared ten times steeper and longer than Polly’s and the homesickness was taking a toll. However, every time I felt like I couldn’t keep going I thought of the diggers. They didn’t have a choice to stop, they didn’t have consistent food and water supplies, they didn’t have the comforts that we had. So, putting one step in front of the other I just kept going, driven by the spirit of their sacrifice. Before we knew it, we had completed the track and were on the flight home. I remember looking out the window as the plane took off, knowing the version of me that would return was not the same me that left for the trip.
For the next 12 months we completed community service, one of the most rewarding aspects of the program. Then within a blink of an eye, I had graduated from the program. Upon completion of the program, I had a new view of the world. I had given me the desire to travel, I wanted to see where help was needed and how I could give back.
Since completing the program in 2016, I have travelled to over 35 countries, gone to university, had various careers, and have bought a house of my very own. If it wasn’t for the program, the old version of me would probably still be searching for her purpose. Instead, I sit here as a young woman who has ventured the world and found a passion in giving back. My work is my passion and I get to be a part of something bigger than myself; I help change the lives of others. I now work for the Kokoda Youth Foundation, not only as a part of the events team but as a qualified youth worker.
So, what did I get out of the program? The KCYP gave me the confidence to take on the world. It pushed me to travel well outside of my comfort zone, allowing me to learn things about myself that otherwise would have never been discovered. I developed a sincere passion for community and giving back as well as some lifelong friends. But most importantly I found ME. The real me.