Four Flight Centre staff have just returned, sore and weary but elated, from a truly Herculean feat – paddling across the Torres Strait from Queensland's Cape York to Papua New Guinea and then running the Kokoda Track – to raise funds and awareness for KTF (Kokoda Track Foundation).
KTF, which is proudly supported by Flight Centre Foundation (FCF), is working to ensure all children in the Kokoda region have access to free, high-quality, reliable education. More than 600,000 school-aged children in PNG cannot go to school because of the lack of teachers. KTF’s Kokoda College pre-service teacher training facility in rural Kokoda village is currently training its first group of 20 teachers.
The Cape York 2 Kokoda (CY2K) Challenge, undertaken by Flight Centre’s Adam Sheehan, Andrew Malon, Bobby Hale and Jason Nooning, has raised $65,000 – with $50,000 going towards training five fully qualified elementary teachers and equipping them with a classroom of resources upon graduation. The remainder will go towards priority programs with FCF’s other charity partners.
Jason said he could not think of enough adjectives to describe how wonderful it felt. “Being a father of two young children, I’ve never experienced this feeling before ... Having trekked through the villages of the Kokoda Track and seeing what the children would grow up with, I was constantly having to keep my emotion in check,” he said. “The feeling is unparalleled, knowing that the direct result of our actions will change the lives of so many people for years to come.”
But it was no easy feat.
“We set off from Cape York, just next to the ‘most northern’ sign, in what I can only describe as an ideal crocodile habitat,” Jason said. “After less than 300 metres of paddling, we hit a whirlpool and our kayak was flipped over – to say that I was scared would have been an understatement.”
And it never got easier, with the team battling 15 to 37-knot winds, and one to two-metre seas the entire time.
On the Kokoda Track, which they aimed to run the track in three days – a journey that normally takes six to 12 days – Bobby had to be airlifted out with chest pains. “Thinking at first it was just from working hard, I pushed on,” Bobby said. “By the end of the day I was more than three hours behind the rest of the team and the pain was like nothing I have ever felt before.”
He rang Covermore Insurance and was flown to Port Moresby for hospital tests.(He has since been released and is home safe and well.)
“I am unbelievably devastated that I was unable to complete this challenge but I am glad I made the decision not to risk my health,” Bobby said. “Congratulations to the rest of the team on making it to Kokoda – you really are super human.”
Todd Horton, global leader of Flight Centre subsidiary Healthwise, joined the challenge for the track component only. The trip culminated in a visit to the Kokoda College in Kou Kou, Oro Province.
Flight Centre, Youngcare & You: How We Can All Support Young Aussies In Need
Flight Centre, Foodbank & You: Help Fight Hunger In Australia
Flight Centre, Redkite & You: Trade Your Favourite Treat To Support Kid With Cancer
KTF marketing and fundraising manager Vera Huntink said the college opened this year.
“In PNG, government teachers get trained for about six weeks, then sent to schools,” Vera said. KTF has developed a 40-week program.
“We send them back to the village and they’re actually educating the kids that probably without our training would not have had the chance for any education,” Vera said. “And to get the support from Flight Centre to be able to train an extra five teachers – the impact that has on all these kids, it’s hard to quantify and qualify. We’re really trying to break that poverty cycle with the college and really ensure that these kids get the quality education that they deserve.”
KTF has been operating in PNG since 2003, starting with a scholarship program. “Soon we realised that having a scholarship program is great but if villages don’t have a school or don’t have a teacher ... we decided to take a more holistic approach, with infrastructure and training teachers,” Vera said.
But a lot of the children who did make it to school were not well. “They have to walk for a day through the mountains – seriously, it’s a tough track just to get to a doctor,” she said.
This year KTF has four new community health workers going into the region.
KTF also realised there was an opportunity for people on the track to earn more money and improve their livelihood, so began a women’s group that catered for trekkers; as well as piloting solar-power base stations in two villages, where people can purchase and recharge lights, in the Light Up PNG program.
“At the moment only 12 per cent of Papua New Guineans have access to electricity – in rural areas, not even 1 per cent,” Vera said. “If there are solar lights, kids can do their homework, parents can work on small businesses, and it’s more safe for women in the village.”
In addition, KTF has a leadership program – Archer Leadership Scholars – where six university students come on an exchange to Australia for two weeks. “If we really want to help PNG as a country, we need to work with the younger generation,” Vera said.
FCF general manager Anita Russell said FCF supported KTF because of the “incredible work they do to build brighter futures in PNG”.
“Although the majority of our support will always be to Australian charities, as avid travellers our people wanted to look beyond our borders to help our near neighbours – none closer than PNG ... as we have seen with our boys taking it on in a kayak,” she says.
“The area of livelihoods and economic empowerment was how our people wanted to help, and when looking into worthy organisations to support, we could not go past KTF.
“Their aim to advance education, health, livelihoods and leadership outcomes for every person in the country is really all about building brighter futures.
“The KTF team do an amazing job working collaboratively with the community in PNG to make a real and sustainable difference, particularly via education ... the key to so much in this life.”
FCF supports KTF’s Education Bilong Olgeta Program contributing to teacher training and development, salaries and school resources for Kokoda Elementary School and Kou Kou Pre-School.
Ralph Honner Oration Dinner – This fundraising dinner is on today (October 23), and will feature an address by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. This year’s dinner is sold out but it is an annual event, so keep an eye out for next year’s dates.
Trek Kokoda with KTF in 2016 – Join KTF in PNG and conquer Kokoda with historian and Flight Centre co-founder Bill James as your guide. You can visit KTF’s projects along the track, including the Kokoda College. In addition to the package price, trekkers are asked to raise an additional $2,500 or more in sponsorship for KTF.
The official opening of the Kokoda College school of health will be held mid-next year.
• Make a gift to the Flight Centre Foundation. All of FCF’s operating costs are covered by Flight Centre Travel Group, maximising the impact of your donation. Donations support KTF and similar key programs at the foundation’s five other charity partners.
• Make a gift directly to KTF to help build brighter futures in PNG.
Buy an item on the KTF website for communities in need – from a teacher’s salary to school or medical supplies and more.
KTF is always looking for skilled volunteers in Papua New Guinea or Australia. “We really need people that are health or educational specialists (in PNG),” Vera said. “In Sydney we’ve got a variety of graphic design, IT, events and social media volunteers.”