Mikala Coonan hopes to learn more about what her grandfather went through as a participant in this year’s Kokoda Kids youth challenge.
Mikala is among four Year 11 girls from Wellington Point State High School selected for the event, and said she was thrilled she could complete the challenge alongside friends, Samantha Harris, Clyzhel Aya-Ay and Grace Kent.
Mikala said she learned of the challenge from last year’s school captain Aaron Pollard.
“I thought it would be a humbling experience and help me learn more about my grandfather who went to Papua New Guinea in World War 2. It will give me a real insight into what went on there,” she said.
Mikala said she approached her friends when she decided to apply for the challenge.
“We decided to do it. We put in our submissions together and were phoned on the same day,” she said.
The girls are part of the Logan group of 13, and joined other students from Tweed Heads, Gold Coast and Brisbane, kicking off the 14-month challenge on May 6 at Nerang. On the first day, they completed fitness and psychometric testing, and participated in team building exercises.
“That’s another advantage. We don’t only get to experience what the diggers experienced, but we can learn about the culture of the country. It is also a great way to get fit,” she said.
Mikala said she also recognised the need to give back to a community that had given to her.
“All we have to provide is our personal equipment like our shoes and day pack. The flights and visa and food are all provided, so in return we help raise funds for the next group,” she said.
The program has been running since 2004 and involves mentoring, adventure-based training, weekly hikes, team building, community service and a funded trip to Papua New Guinea to hike the real Kokoda Track and volunteer in the local villages.
The challenge takes youth aged 15 to 17 from all social backgrounds through a life-changing journey, learning discipline, structure, boundaries and that hard work and smart choices matter.
Having kids from all walks of life provides a platform for the students to mix and learn crucial life skills; keeping the Kokoda spirit of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice alive.
The Kokoda youth foundation and its youth programs impact not only the local teen but their families, schools and entire communities.
2004 Kokoda Kid and current youth leader and board member Shane Stedwell said he started as a Kokoda kid 14 years ago.
“The program was the biggest, most thrilling and most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I keep coming back to prove that and my advice to the kids is to grab it with both hands and watch it change your life,” Mr Stedwell said.
The program relies on volunteers and is funded by the Kokoda Challenge endurance bushwalking events, which take place annually in the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Melbourne hinterland.
The program’s foundation is that there is no difference between those who are expected to fail and those who are expected to achieve. It gives youth an opportunity to expand their limits, realise potential and grow personally.