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.
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
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,
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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