Youth Program Chelsea
Written by Chelsea Cokshoorn, age 17
Before my Kokoda Journey, I was feeling confused and indecisive. At school I was neither rebelling nor doing exceptionally well. I knew that I needed direction for the year to come.
I applied to become a ‘Kokoda Kid’ in the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program.
As a Kokoda Kid you participate in a 14 month experiential learning program that combines fitness, friendship, history, community spirit as well as an overseas trip to Papua New Guinea to walk the 96km ( this is huge) Kokoda Track that the Australian Soldiers fought on in World War II.
Once I was accepted into the program I knew it would open up doors to my future and become my main priority for the year.
During the 20 weeks of training, I started to learn new skills. One was how to manage the many different events in my life at one time, as well as committing to something long-term. I learnt discipline and self control at a time where I could have easily been peer pressured into breaking my commitment and losing balance in my social life.
In preparation for our trip to Papua New Guinea we trained every Sunday. We walked with packs, for long hours and sometimes at night with head torches. Climbing the hills in the bush with my new found Kokoda friends, allowed our friendship to grow stronger week by week.
The Kokoda Challenge Youth program draws on the Spirit of Kokoda – Mateship, Endurance, Courage and Sacrifice.
For me, the meaning of mateship stood out. Despite being in pain the 30 Kokoda Kids managed to stick together and lean on each other in tough times.
The bond we formed allowed us to come together as one and prepared us for the trip (of a life time) to Papua New Guinea to walk the actual Kokoda Track.
My emotions were all over the place as we were destined to arrive in PNG. I remember clearly the poverty as we drove towards the Kokoda Track. It was all so surreal, it took time to really understand - it was very overwhelming.
I knew the next 9 days and 96km were going to be tough but the first night we stayed on the Kokoda Track, despite being exhausted I was so excited.
Over the next few days, I had an incredibly profound experience of pushing my self to my utmost limits, both physically and mentally.
The ongoing discomfort including heat, humidity, insects and sleep deprivation was kept in perspective through the support and encouragement of the other Kokoda Kids. Just being present at the last resting place of some of histories bravest Australians was an incredible feeling.
On the way back to the airport we stopped at the War Cemetery in Port Moresby. The emotions that hit me while standing there were overwhelming. It’s a moment I will never forget. I couldn’t cry, talk, move, but only thank the many Soldiers that lied beneath me. I gained a new appreciation for life and respect for all those who died.
I have no regrets looking back. Academically, my head was in the right direction and this resulted in high marks in my subjects.
As a person I have grown and gained invaluable life experience. I have tolerance, team building skills, respect and confidence in everything I do. These days, I don’t think twice about a new experience. I give everything a shot and to the best of my ability - I know anything is possible.
Looking back the people, the fun times, the pain, the rough times, pushing through the emotions and taking in all the memories, is what made being a Kokoda kid the experience of a lifetime.
Life is precious and I have learnt to have an appreciation for life. I thank the diggers at Bomona Cemetery in PNG for giving us the freedom we have today.