Over six days at the end of June, six Western Chances scholarship recipients made lifelong connections and learnt about themselves and each other. Congratulations to Eangano, Winta, Sophia, Michael, Lidya and Nyakeer who successfully completed the challenging, yet incredibly rewarding Kokoda track.
Taking time out to reconnect
The students joined members of Victoria Police and North Melbourne Football Club’s Community Project “The Huddle” and students from St Bernard’s College. Inspector Nigel Howard has been sending groups to walk the Kokoda Track for over a decade. It might sound unusual to head to remote areas to enhance connection, but the successful program is all about engagement and breaking down barriers between Police and local youths.
Hiking, hiking, hiking and resting
The students were well prepared for the demands of the trek, thanks to a rigorous training program, which ensured they were emotionally and physically ready for the challenge.
Western Chances recipient Winta described the daily schedule:
“A typical day will be waking up at 5am, packing (folding up the tent, filling my camel bag, preparing my food for the day) which takes around an hour, eat breakfast and prepare for the day. Then its hiking, hiking and hiking, climbing up and down, stopping at historical places and learning what happened at that place.”
There were rewards for showing determination and resilience through to the end of each day. Enjoying a natural massage when bathing in the river was a highlight of the experience for Winta. At night, by the bonfire, the porters would sing for the group. “No DJ, no piano, only a guitar and their amazing voices. I by far prefer to hear them all day long than pay for a modern music concert”
Finding gratitude in tough times
Following in the footsteps of soldiers from years past was a humbling experience for the trekkers.
“Learning all the bravery that took place is so amazing, soldiers as young as 19 were fighting for their country and I now know what it really means to sacrifice and endure.”
Winta also enjoyed meeting locals while travelling along the Kokoda track. “The Papuans are one of the most amazing communities I have ever met, their hospitality was beyond our expectation and they will do anything to help and make us feel at home during the hike.”
“Personally, it was a reminder for me, to appreciate what I have, as so many people who deserve better life, don’t really have it. My message to all Western Chances scholars is always be grateful for the chance you received and all the opportunities that you currently hold. Make sure you make the best out of every opportunity you have and remember to be grateful, mindful and have empathy wherever you go.”
Trek participants discovered strengths they didn’t know they had, and they all grew personally during the trek.
Eangano told Western Chances that; “we are ever grateful to your selection of us to participate in this awesome challenge” and that he “would jump at a chance do it all over again. The management was great, the porters who cared for us were out of this world, the village people were tremendous and the happiest people I have ever met, irrespective of their visible poverty. I made lifelong friends at every village I went to”.
Lydia reflected on her journey and certainly developed new skills from her experience; “I can’t say it was easy. It was a challenge for the first couple of days with the change in weather; coming from winter and into the hot temperatures. The trail was fairly different from what we had here (Mt Macedon) and the tent life! Most of us haven't done any camping, so putting the tent up, blowing up the mattress and trying to get organised in the tent was quite a challenge the entire time. In time, I got the hang of it. I have made friendships that I will cherish forever and I learned a lot about myself as well”.
Scholarship recipient Sophia shared the group’s sentiments: “Not only did I meet amazing life-long friends but the challenge also helped me to believe more in myself”.
Thank you to The Huddle and Victoria Police.
For more about the program and the preparation for the trip, see this great video clip from Channel 9 news
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