For almost 20 years, the Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge has been a rite of passage for young people wanting to test themselves both physically and mentally, ultimately changing their lives forever.
After three years off due to the pandemic, the Challenge is back for 2023, and Penrith RSL is looking for the perfect candidates.
The Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge is a peer group leadership program aimed at young people between 17 and 25 years of age, which sees them undertake an arduous 10-day trek across the original Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.
Having taken a pause over the past few years, President of the City of Penrith RSL sub-Branch, Brian Cartwright, said he’s glad to see its return.
“It’s good to see it come back, I think it’s an important piece of work,” he said.
“It’s also very important, from the sub-Branch perspective, that we continue to raise the awareness of the sacrifices that actually took place by our soldiers during the war, so we’re more than happy to support the initiative.”
With challenges at every turn, Cartwright assures that the Challenge is no easy feat.
“You’ll have good days, you’ll have bad days, people get injured, there’s dehydration, there’s all these things that they have to deal with, and they’re in knee-deep mud,” he said.
“It’s not just the physical exertion, it’s the mental capacity to push yourself through that pain barrier and keep going, but doing it as a team as well and supporting each other.”
But, with every person who undertakes the Challenge, they come back having experienced enormous personal growth, said Penrith RSL Club CEO, Neel Chand.
“In every instance, there’s a massive change,” he said.
“It really is a life changing experience.”
With the program also comes the opportunity for participants to share their experience, and be recognised at a national level.
“When they come back, we get them to present to the sub-Branch and the Board about their experience,” he said.
“At the end of the year, there’s also an RSL Conference, and one of the awards is the Kokoda Leadership Challenge Award, which we get the opportunity to nominate someone for.”
Two Penrith students will be chosen to do the Challenge, one by Penrith RSL Club and one by the City of Penrith RSL sub-Branch.
As for what they’re looking for when it comes to potential participants, it’s passion, and x-factor.
“Previously, we’ve had people with military backgrounds, we’ve had a nurse, a psychologist, but it’s really about that ‘it’ factor, that you just know that person is going to be the right fit, and will be able to get through it, and once they’ve done it, it will change their life,” said Penrith RSL Club Marketing Manager, Leanne Stokes.
Cartwright agreed with the sentiment.
“It’s not necessarily about picking the best student,” he said.
“I think what’s most important here is picking the most deserving individual, who would probably benefit the most from it, or would have the capacity to inspire others when they come back.”
Applications for 2023 are now open, and will close on Wednesday, April 12.
For more information, visit penrithrsl.com.au.
Cassidy Pearce is a news and entertainment journalist with The Western Weekender. A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, she has previously worked with Good Morning Macarthur and joined the Weekender in 2022.