Kia Ora, jingeri, g’day and warm Pacific greetings my name is Azania, and I’m a Kokoda Kid. 

I was part of the 2022 Kokoda Challenge Youth Program (KCYP). I came across KCYP through an email that was sent out to my school, Trinity College. My mum and my teacher Mr. Cappleman, an avid advocate for KCYP, encouraged me to apply. I read a description of the program and made an application immediately! Unaware of the full commitment, besides knowing they did long, uninterrupted walks through the bush, and that my school participated in the Kokoda Challenge annually, I was excited about the opportunity. 

When joining the program, I was anxious. The thought of meeting a bunch of strangers wondering if they were going to like me, and the doubt of completing 96KMs was playing out in my head before even attending our first meeting.  I didn’t know what the next 9 months of my life would look like or even if KCYP was for me. One thing that was constant, was the excitement and adventures that may lay ahead of me. Later, I learned this was how everyone else felt at orientation.  

We were allocated our groups by districts; I was a part of Gold Coast KCYP. This included our four volunteer leaders eleven Kokoda Kids.  We broke the ice at orientation with some games and by sharing a meal with our families. Here we received the infamous red KCYP shirts. This set a foundation for our time at Camp Kokoda. On this camp, we connected on a deeper level. Complete strangers turned into connections likened to family. 

During the program, there were weekly training sessions on Wednesday at the Pimpama Sports Hub. Each week my team and I would alternate in leading the training sessions. This included cardio, resistance training, callisthenics, and playing different games such as Red Rover. All these activities are beneficial for trekking through the bush. Personally, Red Rover was my favourite activity, because we would get really competitive and work as a team. Mateship, a pillar of the Kokoda Spirit, is the key to successfully completing KCYP as a cohesive cohort.  

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Each person in the Gold Coast team brought different experiences and personalities which enriched the group.  On reflection, I don’t remember how physically demanding the numerous hills we climbed were. But, I remember all the random conversations I had with my team. Like Mo, the academic team member, telling us about science and singing songs… only so many bottles can fall off the wall. During our training hikes, we came up with a friendly game involving a rock. The rock would circulate within our group, and the person who had it at the end of the hike had to hold it on the next hike, adding a new accessory each time. Eventually, we began placing random items in each other’s bags for amusement. 

Our first Kokoda Challenge was the Sunshine Coast 48km event. We had one supported checkpoint where we enjoyed a warm meal and encouragement from our families to recharge us.  Naturally, some team members required emotional, mental, and physical support throughout. And we supported each other with each step. Thank goodness we had amazing leaders who diverted negative thoughts and helped us cross that finish line. I felt like I personally smashed it and was ready to go again, I finished that race on a colossal rush, feeling irrepressible!

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Fast forward to July 16th, 2022, the day of the 96km Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge, one of my favourite memories. I know I definitely had my peaks and troughs on the track, as did my team members. On arrival, we found out that due to illness one of our leaders was unable to walk with us. That left an empty space within the team, but we carried Matt in our thoughts. The atmosphere was electrifying, buzzing with excitement, I had to contain myself because I wanted to conserve energy. There were hot air balloons in the air, hundreds of supporters, army members, a drumline, and most importantly my family. We all lined up at the starting line and the Gold Coast KCYP team was given the honour of being the first ones to step off. There I was, standing side by side with my team about to embark on the best journey of my life thus far. “BANG!” sounded the canon. Off we went, one foot in front of the other. The crowd was roaring. I spotted my family and gave them one last hug. The immense feeling of pride to be wearing the red KCYP shirt was indescribable.  

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We reached the water circuit at night. We were belting out the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song, and our infectious energy prompted other contestants to request songs, keeping their spirits high. Later that night most of us girls had our first of many pit stops in the bushes, as well as our first group experience using nature as our bathroom.  I never imagined team bonding would occur this way. By the end of the program something that was so foreign before now seems so normal. 

During the challenge I experienced weaknesses I never felt before. Not only mentally but physically, it was a humbling experience. I injured my calf just over the halfway mark. This impacted me significantly and had a flow-on effect on my team. With each step I took, I felt a sharp pain pulsating through my leg. The physical ailments started affecting me mentally. But I kept asking myself, “Why am I still walking? Who am I walking for?“. My biological dad passed away on that day in 2006, before I was born. I dedicated this walk to his memory and spirit. I knew that I had to prove to myself that I couldn’t let anything stop me and called on all the spiritual strength I conjured up to help me physically. We arrived at Clagiraba, the last supported checkpoint. I limped into the checkpoint, crying. My parents took me in their arms, gave me reassurance, and strapped my leg. My dad wrapped my biological dad’s bandana around my wrist so I could look at it, to draw on him when I felt low.  

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My clearest memory was in Nerang State Forest at checkpoint 13. I walked out of the checkpoint with Meg, my KCYP sister, and Carmen, our KCYP leader, on each of my sides with the boys holding our bags. I was beyond struggling, almost medically unfit to continue. But having them both support me, knowing I wasn’t alone gave me strength to persevere.  We all suffered as one and were bound to cross that finish line together. Nothing was going to stop us. 

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Crossing that finish line with linked arms with one another full of unknown sensations.  The emotions were unreal. The pride I had for my team, our leaders, the families and myself, the happiness that we completed the 96km challenge will always be indescribable, as no words can fully comprehend the journey we had. We completed the challenge in 34 hours 43 minutes and 53 seconds. I was unable to walk for 5 days after due to my injury. With no hesitation, I would do it all over again. 

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Buy now the focus had shifted to the Peak Experience in Cairns.  All the KCYP teams were dispersed, and we would be experiencing the trip with another set of friends. Once we landed in Cairns, we promptly collected our bags and filled our water bladders with water from the airport bathroom basins. Then we were ushered to our bus and taken directly to our first hike of the trip.  While hiking it was extremely hot and the humidity hit differently than back home. The views were breathtaking, along with the rich history that lay upon the tracks.

While waiting for our lunch from Subway to arrive, we rested next to a freshwater mini waterfall. To help us cool down we soaked our trekking shirts and dunked our heads in the water. We even filled our bladders up. Once we all started to get a little bit peckish, we lent on nature to feed us. Ryan, from KCYP Tweed, told us it was okay to eat the bums of green ants. I initially had to get over the fact that it was crawling around before entering my mouth. We indeed ate the bums of green ants. 

The next day we had our tour around Cairns where we visited different historical sites, ranging from memorial sites to runways. We visited a dam that day. The water was gushing out creating strong winds, which was trying to steal our hats from us, but we held on tight. 

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We had the privilege to hike beside Milo, Mr Chips, Duffy, Jack, Priscilla, Bella, Snow, Casper, and Murphy. The famous 9 Donkeys. Each and every donkey had their own personality. Hiking alongside Milo on the first day was something truly magical. Although he was stubborn and would attempt to go off on his own journey, he and I bonded that day. We were also shown and taught indigenous techniques to gather food through spearfishing. And let’s just say, that if the village had to rely on me to bring food back, we would have starved.

At one point we were in the Daintree Rainforest swimming and rafting with turtles. Trekking around Cairns and sleeping at various locations was very therapeutic. We would set up our own campsite including our tents and a kitchen, something I have never been exposed to previously. I feel like I could rival Bear Grills with the experience Cairns has gifted me. One of the nights we were star gazing and listening to stories being told. The experience was captivating. Laying amongst my friends, it felt like we were there for hours, in reality, it was only 20-30 minutes. Staring up into the stars was a peaceful experience, that I will never forget.   

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After the peak experience, we volunteered for community events and organisations such as Kokoda Legacy, Raw Challenge, Surfing with the Disabled, Sea Shepherd Australia and many more. One of my favourite volunteering events was the Raw Challenge. We filled cups with water and handed them out, while cheering for the contestants, giving them motivation to carry on. I also did this at Kokoda Legacy, at the start and at the finish line. Surfing with the Disabled was so rewarding, you get to help the disabled by giving them a fun experience in a safe environment.  

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The program taught me that the only limitation in life is one’s mindset. The program enabled me to push myself beyond my perceived limits. Now I know I can do far more than I originally thought I could. I’ve also discovered that relying on others when you are vulnerable signifies trust and comfort in our relationships. And that in order to grow, you have to experience discomfort. Because of these experiences, I am a better version of myself.

I really believe that KCYP changes people and the way they look at life. It taught me to challenge myself more in everyday life. It is an opportunity to learn about yourself and gain a new perspective on everything you embark on. It also allows you to meet new people who will make an immediate impact. To those who are thinking about doing the program, I say “Do it!” you will regret not taking a chance on yourself.

I have been involved with the Kokoda Youth Foundation since graduating from the program. I’ve shared my journey preparing for the  48km Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge and volunteering at the challenge after completing the 48km trek. Thank you, KYF, for the experiences. Thank you to my leaders Leigh, Beau, Carmen and Matt. Thank you to my Gold Coast KCYP members Abi, Febe, Kai, Liv, Lochie, Meg and Mo. 

Once a Kokoda Kid, always a Kokoda Kid!

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We asked some of our 2022 Kokoda Challenge Youth Program graduates what they thought was their biggest takeaway from completing the program!

Here’s what they had to say ↓

India  My biggest takeaway that I got from the program was a newfound passion for hiking and a connection to people who are some of my best friends, I joined this program to have something to look forward to after I had experienced a major loss and hardship, this program gave me stability, a healthy outlet and people I could talk to and lean on when I felt that I couldn’t go on, it has been one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and amazing experiences I’ve ever done and I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity in the first place.

Josh My takeaway is that life is hard and challenging, much like the 96kms, but if you push through until you see the sun rise up the next morning, you’ll have the courage and endurance to achieve anything that life throws in your path.


Flynn –I think that my biggest takeaway was learning how to work with and help people especially in more emotional or stressful situations. There were a couple of times throughout the Cairns trip, one being the day the donkeys fled. I tried to stay calm and focus on helping others. This is a skill that will be used all throughout life in different situations.  

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Ryan –What I have learnt is that it’s not all about the destination rather it’s about the journey and who you are with.  I learnt this through the training walks earlier on as I grew to understand the true meaning of endurance and found that the best way to enjoy the hikes was to live in the moment and enjoy the people around me, forming great friendships – true mateship.  These lessons will help me be patient and be able to endure anything and to enjoy the process, not just the end result. 

Learn more about KCYP 

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 Kiana – Last year was a time of growth and self-awareness for me. I discovered most of these lessons during the challenging Kokoda experience. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to reflect and think. One thing that greatly aided me was the weekly question, a small prompt that made me think and push myself further. It’s like breaking down a big goal into smaller steps, like climbing a staircase. We started with 12km, then 14km, 30km, 54km, and finally 96km. It didn’t feel as overwhelming when we were told we had 24 weeks to achieve 96km. I believe this skill can be applied to any goal and help me tackle it.

Another valuable lesson I learned from the program is the importance of self-awareness. It’s about recognising when to seek support and when to rely on myself. Finding the balance can be challenging for me. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed, when I didn’t want to continue, or when I needed a distraction from hiking. But knowing that I could trust my parents to take care of me during the pit stops was so important.

KCYP also taught me to have more empathy. We all experienced difficult moments, and we realised that someone else might be going through something even harder. Listening to how others cope in tough situations, whether they prefer distractions or focusing on the immediate challenges ahead, was eye-opening. It revealed both our limitations and our strengths. Personally, I appreciate these insights and use them to make better choices. Often, we are so focused on getting through tough times or simply relieved when the struggle is over that we forget to see the challenges as opportunities for growth.

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The Kokoda Challenge Youth Program is a 9-month life skills program for 14-16 year olds, affectionately know as the ‘Kokoda Kids’. The program offers an opportunity for young people who are looking for direction and motivation to succeed.

Participants undergo 6 months of weekly training session followed by two challenges, the 96km Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge, and the KCYP Peak Experience. The Kokoda Kids then engage in 3 months of biweekly volunteer service days.

At the heart of the program lies the history of the Kokoda Campaign during World War II. Drawing inspiration from the Australian Diggers who defied insurmountable odds and accomplished the seemingly impossible, the KCYP instils the values of Courage, Endurance, Sacrifice, and Mateship, collectively known as the Kokoda Spirit.

2022 Kokoda Kid, Olivia, spoke about her connection to the 1942 Kokoda Campaign at the 2022 KCYP graduation ceremony. You can read her speech below

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
“For those of you who do not know me, my name is Olivia and I am a member of the Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge Youth Program group. I am grateful to have the privilege tonight to speak about my great grandfather, LT William Edward Young, a Kokoda veteran. 
“In July of 1941, a 23 year old Young was commissioned, commanding a mortar platoon in 3 Battalion. He arrived in Papua New Guinea in May 1942 where 3 Battalion were to garrison Port Moresby. On the 13th June, Young and Lt. Alex Palmer began a reconnaissance mission over the Kokoda Track. They identified possible defensive positions and reported on the possibility of constructing a road to Kokoda from Sogeri. They were the first two officers of the Australian army to make the trek.
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 “3 Battalion were part of the campaign at Gona during November 1942. It was at Gona where Young was wounded by artillery fire, as well as earning the Military Cross for ‘sustained coolness and bravery’. 
“The citation states: “At Gona on 24 and 25 November 1942, Lieut. Young led a patrol into the right flank of the enemy position, guided another patrol and finally guided his Company in an assault against prepared enemy positions. During the first patrol, Lieut. Young shot two of the enemy, in the second patrol of the following day he courageously moved forward with the leading scout to draw fire and thus locate the enemy weapons and the assault on the same day continued to give direction to his Company Commander after receiving wounds in both legs. Lieut. Young exhibited the same quality of leadership in action at Templeton’s Crossing on 18 October 1942 and at Oivi from the 5-11 November 1942“.
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 “Due to his injuries, one leg was amputated at Soputa and the other after he was evacuated to Brisbane. However, shortly after his operation at Soputa, the hospital was bombed and the surgeons were killed. Remarkably, Young, barely conscious, was carried out by Allan Johnstone and another man.
 He made it home but had a horrendous train trip after his second amputation in Brisbane. Firstly he travelled to Sydney, where the hospital at Concord had no beds, and then on an ambulance train to Tamworth – known by locals as the ‘Death Train’ – where facilities were primitive.
“After the 36 hour train ride in the sweltering Christmas heat they arrived in Tamworth. The badly injured Australian soldiers were accommodated at Tamworth Army General Hospital, a series of army sheds. Most of the men were under morphine.

“In 1954 Young met the Late Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. He later lived in Kempsey and Dolphin Point. Ted Young died on the 17th of March 2003 at age 85 in Temora Hospital.

I am so proud to be related to such a brave individual. I feel grateful to have such a personal connection to the Kokoda campaign because it made the entire program all the more meaningful. I believe it is imperative that we continue to learn about the sacrifices, small or great, made by our veterans. That sacrifice our brave soldiers made will never be forgotten.

Thank you.”
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Hello there, my name is Jared and I’m a Kokoda Kid. 

My journey with Kokoda didn’t begin with the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program, it actually began by completing the 48 Brisbane and Gold Coast Kokoda Challenges, where I needed to raise funds for the KCYP with my school team.  

Although I was raising funds for the Kokoda Kids, I still didn’t quite understand what I was raising funds for. Until a member of the foundation came to my school and delivered a very riveting presentation on the program. Explaining that this program was a “life changing experience, giving you the tools to tackle anything life throws at you”. Although, that sounded nice. I was 15 and very naïve and only really saw the physical side to the program and the trip to Papua New Guinea to walk the Kokoda Track.  

With that naivety I applied and was accepted into the Logan 2019 Kokoda Kids team and began my journey. Naturally I am very quiet and shy, so a group of 14 brand new people was already very outside my comfort zone.  

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We trained every Wednesday afternoon at Kangaroo Point Headland for a personal training session, and through Mount Coo-Tha every Sunday. If you ask any of the Logan team, we don’t really remember any of the physical or mental strain we endured, but all the elation we felt from completing a hill, or the weird and wacky conversations we had while walking. We do however remember and continuously get reminded by our parents of the 5:30am meet ups at eight-mile plains McDonald’s. That was always fun to see how everyone was feeling that early in the morning. 

Fast forward 2 months, we are standing at the start line of the 96km Kokoda Challenge event. Fit, united and raring to go, the Logan team set off on the most challenging endurance event in Australia. We had our challenges along the way both as a team and individually, but completed the 96km event in 33 hours and 10 minutes. The FASTEST Logan Kokoda Kids team ever!!! Yes, it isn’t about how fast you complete it in, but the journey you go on during the event. But you always have to take the title of the fastest team of the region you’re representing.  

Once the challenge was completed, we exchanged our small camelbacks for 60L hiking packs and began training for Papua New Guinea. 

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In short, Papua New Guinea was the greatest experience of my life. Battling the steep terrain through the wet slippery mud of PNG. Yes, it rained for 3 days straight while we were walking. Although, as miserable as it got at times, it was always fun watching your best friends fall over into thick mud 

PNG taught me so much about myself, taught me so much about my team. The experience brought us so close to each other, that we went from a team of teenagers to a family. Taught us so much that even when times get tough, you need to stick with your family in order to push through. Getting to Isurava and performing a dawn service at the memorial site was such a surreal and emotional experience. Just one week before we left, I found out my Great uncle served in the 53rd Battalion at the battle of Isurava and Deniki. But our team stuck together, helped each other delve deeper into the four pillars “Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice” and we completed the Kokoda Track 

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2019 Kokoda Kids walking through PNG Kokoda Track
2019 Kokoda Kids walking through PNG Kokoda Track

Coming home, the program still wasn’t complete. We had 8 months that ended up being 12 months of community service still to complete. The community gave so much to us throughout our journey, that it was our turn to return the favour and help the community however we could. Volunteering our time to help the people that helped us. 

On the 17th of October we graduated from the program, and we had succeeded. Everything we were promised about the program, was nowhere near what I got out of it. I received an extended family, people I can forever lean on for anything. I learnt the meaning of “Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice” and now live by them every day. I learnt how to lend a hand to people not as fortunate as myself. 

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The Kokoda Youth Foundation gave me so much, I couldn’t just leave it behind. Once I graduated high school, I found the Certificate IV in Outdoor Leadership, and once completed asked to work for them out at Camp Kokoda as one of their full time instructors.  

Past Kokoda Kid Jarod at Kokoda Park with school camp kids

If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’d still be the shy nervous 15-year-old who only understood how to be a high level athlete, and not a genuine member of society.  

Kokoda Kids for Life!!!! 


Hear what else Jared and other 2019 Kokoda Kids had to say about their experience!

Thinking back to 2009 feels like a stretch sometimes, but when it comes to the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program the memories are clear. I recall a school assembly for year 11 and 12 students where we watched a presentation and were told about the program and what it entailed. I liked how it sounded – being challenged physically and learning more about WWII. That day at lunch I spoke to some friends and found that some of them had done it the year before and recommended it. Doing the program in year 12 felt like a challenge but I had a feeling that I needed to apply. 

I spoke to my parents who agreed that it would be a great opportunity for me. We met Doug and Anna and attended an interview. I got in! I was so excited. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time but that feeling remained that I needed to do this. 

I met my peers for a fitness test at Burleigh Beach. I can still recall having many thoughts racing through my mind. The day went well and by the end everyone was doing their best.  

From then on it was weekly hikes with our Team Leaders. Sometimes, I really enjoyed seeing how much I could push myself when I was already tired, I felt a sense of pride in that. It was nice to be on my own in a group, silent with my thoughts or just taking in the fresh air and native bird sounds. I also got to chat with the other members of my crew and found it a little easier to come out of my shell with each conversation. It felt like the barriers that I had built up in my head were being broken down and I felt freer to be myself. 

It came time for the ultimate challenge, we had become much closer as a group and had gotten fitter too. The Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge. I am sure I wasn’t the only one with a lot of feelings as we crossed the starting line, heading out with excitement and knowledge of the pain to come. I made it halfway when I had to be taken out due to exhaustion and a bad knee. At the time it was hard to bear that I hadn’t been able to finish it but reflecting on it now, I’m proud of how far I’d gotten and the person I was developing into. 

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Flying out to Papua New Guinea came quicker than I could process. Seeing the City of Port Moresby and the surrounding villages as we were bussed to Ower’s Corner was an eye-opening experience. Truly becoming aware of how different my life would have been if I were born in another country. 

A new level of appreciation was growing inside me. My experience of the Kokoda Track in PNG remains difficult for me to summarise. The rainforest and mountains were breathtaking, and the people were humble. Learning more about what the diggers went through really brought home the sacrifice they made to protect our country. And the human bonds created with the fuzzy wuzzy angels showed a depth of humanity that was inspiring. 

Alongside the values of Mateship, Endurance, Courage, and Sacrifice that were instilled in me was also a nurtured sense of gratitude.  

Over the years I can recognise these values and where they have guided me to make important decisions in my life. Having the Courage to go for things like my motorbike license and scuba diving certificate, overcoming my fears and that voice that tries to hold me back. 

Knowing that life is a journey of endurance, it may take a little long to get where you want but with perseverance you will get there. Understanding mateship and what it means to be there for others when they need it. Sacrificing the creature comforts for a longer-term goal or even just to better appreciate what we have, left such an impact on me during my trip to Papuan New Guinea.  

I have volunteered over the years at the Kokoda Challenge events with my dad who has been helping ever since I was in the Youth Program. I enjoy that we have a common appreciation for nature and have had the opportunity to spend quality time together putting out track signs, moving around the big electronic road signs and even track marking with tree tinsel. 

My favourite part of volunteering at the events over the years would be cheering on the competitors through checkpoints and watching them cross the finish line. Seeing the emotion on their faces was truly touching, and inspiring. It reminded me of what an incredible achievement it is to compete in these events and what I have achieved in my own life thanks to the KCYP. 

I now have the honour of working with the Kokoda Youth Foundation as Admin and Event Liaison Officer and will get to interact with all the wonderful people the KYF involves and looking forward to what the future may hold. 

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.

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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. 

Flashback to day five of the 2021 Kokoda Challenge Youth Program peak experience trek! We pulled Kokoda Kid Harry aside at our campsite at Jubilee Creek in Stannary Hills to ask him what he thought of the donkey trek and the entire program so far:

What has your Kokoda Challenge Youth Program experience been like?

Harry: My experience so far, I’ve made friends with a lot of people. This entire program has been very much life-changing I would say and it has given me new perspectives on what is important.

What have you gained from the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program?

Harry: Actually caring about what I want to do in the future. Like actually care about that and I appreciate the things that I have because I know that they can swiftly be taken away. And a lot of people won’t have those things and won’t have the opportunities that I have so I think I’m very thankful and understand that I’m thankful for the things that I have.

What has been the highlight of the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program?

Harry: it would probably be the leaders and Steve in general [a KCYP leader]. He’s really taught me a lot of times through this program and really changed my mind on a lot of things. All the people that are here and surround this program are all fantastic people and I think it’s a very good place to be.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying for the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program?

Harry: Join! Just do it! I did it, I looked at it and I was just like you know, I’m just going to do it, I signed up online, I did it immediately and it’s been the best thing I’ve done so far in my life, definitely. It’s been a fantastic experience and I never thought I would even travel on a plane again at my age. All the things that are good about this program really add up and make it worth everything.

One of the highlight experiences for many of the Kokoda Kids in the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program is the peak experience. Traditionally, the kids would be travelling to Papua New Guinea to walk the real Kokoda Track in the footsteps of our Australia diggers.
But due to COVID restrictions, the kids took on an all-Aussie adventure in Far North Queensland to visit significant WWII sites and also to learn about Indigenous culture and conservation work that’s happening around the  Great Barrier Reef. We pulled aside Kokoda Kids Ash & Pia during the last day of their donkey trek to ask them about their Kokoda Challenge Youth Program experience. These two champions had just walked around 62 kilometers over 6 days to visit historical mining towns and learn about the history of the Kokoda Campaign along the way. Here’s what they had to say about their time in the program:

What has your Kokoda Challenge Youth Program experience been like?

Pia: I learnt new team developing skills and how to socialise and work with people even when sometimes you don’t agree with them you learn to build that trust and connection to overcome certain issues work with people together to achieve one goal.
Ash: Just meeting so many amazing new people. Learning to get along with everyone and anyone. Just always being able to have someone around you that you know will come and help you and you can trust and talk to them whenever.

Has this experience helped you learn about the Kokoda Campaign in 1942?

Pia: A sense of independence in a way. I’ve learned how to cope with myself when I’m struggling and when I’m having a high or having a low, you learn to work through it either way. I think I’ve gained a bit more respect for myself, because it does teach your limits are just in your head and you can push through most things if you put your mind to it.
Ash: Your limits are something that you think are true and real and even it’s something like an injury or something like that or maybe if you’re sick it is something that you can push through, you just got to believe in yourself. Start believing that you can and believing in others around you that they can too.

If you or someone you know is looking for the adventure of a lifetime, then register your interest to become a future Kokoda Kid in the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program.

This is Phoenix. Phoenix is one of the Kokoda Kids from the 2021 Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge Youth Program. Sadly, he had to exit the program early as his family relocated cities, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting involved in the last phase of his KCYP journey! He has stayed in touch with all of the volunteer leaders and his fellow Kokoda Kids and is still committed to completing the community service requirement to be able to graduate from the program. Phoenix has been helping out at the local police and fire stations, and sending us photos along the way of his new life in a new city. We’re looking forward to seeing Phoenix again when he pays us a visit for graduation and we are delighted to see how far he’s come since the start of the program. Here’s Phoenix’s story:

What is your name and what KCYP team are you in?

Phoenix in May: So my name is Phoenix and I’m in the Gold Coast Kokoda team
Phoenix in October: Hi I’m Phoenix Lima, and I’m from Gold Coast.

What’s the date today?

Phoenix in May: It’s 2021, 27th of May.
Phoenix in October: It’s the 25th of October today.

What made you want to apply to this program?

Phoenix in May: Just something new and a need for a new adventure.
Phoenix in October: I wanted to do something new and I wanted an adventure and I got it! But I think I got even more than what I was asking for. (Producer: what else did you get?) Education, made really good friends that I would almost call family, and just so much more than what I was
asking for.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Phoenix in October: Very cheerful, helpful and I think I’ve also learned I can be a bit goofy in some ways.
Phoenix in May: very cheerful, funny (even though I can be annoying). Funny, cheerful and very helpful.

Why did you apply for the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program?

Phoenix in May: to get fit and healthy and gain a new knowledge about Kokoda.
Phoenix in October: (Producer: do you think you did that?). I have. I have definitely gotten fitter. I actually have muscles in my legs!
Except now I just need to even it out in other places [laughs]. And I have gotten a lot more knowledge about the whole Kokoda and everything that happened now. A lot more.

What is your biggest accomplishment in life so far?

Phoenix in May: made new friends, made a bond and also I knew nothing about Kokoda at the start, and now I know how really it was a big thing during World War II.
Phoenix in October: even though I knew I was going to make the 96km, I knew I was going to make it, but probably the greatest accomplishment is that we broke a record! But I never intended that, but that’s probably one of the greatest accomplishments.

What is the most important thing to you in your life right now?

Phoenix in October: just having a laugh and enjoying life.
Phoenix in May: just keep going with life, keep going forward.

What do you want to do as a career in future?

Phoenix in October: I don’t really know, but what I do know is that I’m going to keep going. I’m going to do whatever that appeals to me and hopefully on my journey, I’m going to find something that catches my eye. Although I don’t know what it might be, something will come.
Phoenix in May: I don’t really have much plans. But all I know is something will be waiting for me in the future.

What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?

Phoenix in October: mountains. I can do almost everything else. The mountains, for some reason, they hit me hard, but I focused on that. I’ve trained myself. And now they hurt me less.
Phoenix in May: going up tall mountains. I struggled, but I kept going.

Who is your best friend?

Phoenix in October: there is no one, everyone is my best friend, (producer: everyone in the program?) Everyone! Even if I hardly know them I’ll still call them a friend.
Phoenix in May: a best friend? Well, I don’t have a best friend, I have friends and that’s just my family at the moment.

How involved are you in the community and what do you do to give back to others?

Phoenix in October: I definitely give back for everything that the foundation has done for us, especially, the trip to Cairns. Like that was probably the greatest thing and I’d be very happy to give back and volunteer to help everything they have done.
Phoenix in May: I am pretty involved and if anyone is ever in a pickle, I always help them out!

What is the most amazing experience you’ve ever had in your life?

Phoenix in October: getting my butt out of the door! Even though, I like being out of the house, I’ve never left my area. I’ve never gone out of my comfort zone.
Phoenix in May: my most amazing experience; meeting these new people, learning about the Kokoda Campaign and all these great hikes as well as camp, that’s probably my greatest experience.

What advice would you give yourself a year from now?

Phoenix in May: keep pushing, that’s my greatest advice.
Phoenix in October: (Producer: do you think you’ve done that?) yep, and I’ll still keep pushing.

What has the program been like so far?

Phoenix in May: the program’s been great. Amazing. Really good.
Phoenix in October: well, I’ll say this now: it has been outstanding. Just wonderful, like 10 out of 10. Wonderful.

How do you feel about tackling 96kms & the peak experience trek?

Phoenix in May: I don’t feel anything now, but I do know for one thing. When I first heard about it, I was really excited to try and give it a go,
really excited.
Phoenix in October: 96? Just unbelievable that I’ve done something involving not sleeping in the night! And, sadly, no camels, but even better; donkeys! Just got really excited and yes, it was amazing. 96kms and the peak experience was just amazing, wonderful.

Do you think you have grown since the start of the program?

So much, just so much. I’ve grown so much from all this.


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