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LUKE SPAJIC EXPERIENCES

THE KOKODA YOUTH LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE The Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge is a practical leadership program established by RSL & Services Clubs. The aim is to provide Australian youth with development in their leadership, teamwork abilities through a 10-day trek of the Kokoda trail, led by Australian veteran and former MP Charlie Lynn. Further goals of the program are to develop an appreciation for the past sacrifice of Australian soldiers, particularly during the arduous Kokoda campaign, and to strengthen our understanding and connection to our closest neighbours, Papua New Guinea.

1. WHAT WAS YOUR OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF THE PROGRAM?

The program was fantastic. My expectations were to learn a huge deal about myself, teamwork and leadership through the adversity that the trek would invariably provide. These expectations were met, but not in the manner that I expected. I learned far more from Kokoda than I anticipate that I would have on any other 10-day trek. The program was so much more than a trek. Due to quite extreme bouts of illness and weather, I have struggled more physically in other treks. In those treks, I learned that I am physically capable of far more than I had previously realised. Due to these prior experiences and the degree to which I trained for the trek, after day 2 (which I was told was the most difficult of the trek), I was actually wary of the fact that I might not experience great physical difficulty during the trek. Fortunately, besides a bout of dehydration, I did not experience any illness or significant injury. However, I learned so much more than I expected. Therefore, I have and will continue to recommend the Kokoda trail, but specifically this program. I strongly believe that despite one’s fitness, trekking experience or existing leadership capability, any youth would benefit hugely from the trip.

2. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF?

The experience was extremely humbling. I like to believe that I have faced undergone significant personal development, especially due to mental illness in recent years and 2 treks I found quite difficult. (One in which I could not eat the entire time due to gastro, one in which I hiked through a snow-storm and had to camp solo in the snow with entirely drenched gear.) This trip showed me that I have so much more to learn and that I have something to learn from everybody. What is different between these experiences is that this prior adversity was personal adversity. Although I received some help from others, it was adversity that only I was going through. This meant that I could focus on getting myself through as a priority. However, during Kokoda, there is not a single team member who does not struggle or suffer adversity. The traits needed to assist, not hinder, a team that are all struggling are entirely different to those needed to get only yourself through adversity. During Kokoda, there is no way to escape your team’s suffering, and there suffering matters equally to yours. You are together 24 hours a day for 10 days. During especially days 3-5, despite being sufficiently physically fit, I found myself getting quite frustrated with a slower team member. This was not due to the fact that they were slow, but because I did not believe they had trained and other team members, myself included, ended up carrying their entire pack at times. I was aware that this is a team job but found myself frustrated that myself and others were unable to adequately assist those

I personally applied for a few reasons. Firstly, I have had a strong interest in history, including military history, since primary school. I wished to gain a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made by those my age and younger only a few generations ago. I had read about the Kokoda campaign and knew that it was significant in our history, but wished to learn more. Second, much of the source of my personal and character development thus far has been through adversity - whether that has been physical, mental or a combination of the two. However, much of this has been done on my own. I cherished the opportunity to face this adversity as a team to develop my abilities to be part of, and lead a team, under challenging circumstances. Further, I knew very little about Papua New Guinea as a nation and as a people. Unfortunately, parts of Papua New Guinea are unsafe to travel to unless part of a group and accompanied by local guides. This challenge provided a perfect opportunity to learn more about PNG and to meet the direct descendants of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

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