Real Futures Foundation - Kokoda Youth Program

Kokoda Youth Leadership

In 2014 former Tomaree High School student Mitchell Voytas walked the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea as part of a youth challenge experience. His adventure was facilitated by the Real Futures Foundation, and a grant of $6000 from Nelson Bay Bowling Club.

Below, Mitchell recounts some of his trekking experience and how it changed him.

“My challenge was a 10-day trek through the jungle of Papua New Guinea, along the iconic Kokoda Trail. Every day our group learned many things about leadership, the Kokoda campaign and ourselves.

Each night leaders were selected for the next day. The leaders had to ensure that the group met time frames and helped keep in everyone high spirits. The leaders also had to report any injuries or people that were struggling. On the 7th day I was selected with another trekker named Dan.  Dan had already had his turn at being leader but was selected again as the group needed to have two leaders each day.

Being a leader for the day was difficult as I had to manage the group and know the whole day plan to ensure we kept on schedule.  However, as our group was now seven days into the walk we had now worked out a routine by checking others around then reporting any problems to the leaders and helping out when needed/ asked.

The day ran smoothly and we made it into camp early. Every night the leaders of the day were evaluated by the group using one single word per group member. Words that I was evaluated with were: confident, efficient and precise; just to name a few.

During the trek we were told to think about what we are going to leave behind on the trail, and what we are going to stick with when we returned home.  Once we had selected our things we would share them with the group. I thought very hard about this, then after I knew what I was going to say I verified it with John our trek leader.

The next day I was chosen to tell the group what I was going to stick with and what I was going to leave behind. I’d decided I was going to leave behind was my self-centredness and my childish behaviours. And what I was going to stick to is: one day taking my father over and completing it with him and keeping a promise I made to a fallen solder named Bruce Kingsbury to make his sacrifice worth it by living my life to the fullest.

One of my best moments on the trail had to be at our dawn service at Isurava memorial. Here is a piece I wrote about the morning:

It was early morning standing on the side of a mountain in the middle of the jungle, steps leading to the four granite pillars that will remain in my life forever. Etched into the each separate pillar was one word, these words were Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice. On this mountain side we remember our fallen during the battles along the mountain side trail with the ode of remembrance.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

In the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

Quietly droplets covered the stairs, but this was not rain, but 17 young trekkers that without queue had fell silent on the Isurava Memorial.

We were given half an hour before setting off to reflect and take our last photos.  It was truly amazing experience.

Thank you to Nelson Bay Bowling Club, the Real Futures foundation and anyone else that helped support me on this amazing opportunity.”

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