In The Footsteps of Heroes:

The Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge 2019

In Picture (from left to right): Mick McConnell (Penrith RSL sub-Branch President), Rebekah Keehan, Mitchell Waugh, Frank Portelli (Penrith RSL Chairman).

Two local young adults will soon be walking in the steps of the Diggers that slogged up the Kokoda Track to face the Japanese war machine back in 1942.

Mitchell Waugh and Rebekah Keehan have been chosen by Penrith RSL Club and Penrith RSL sub-Branch to take part in the RSL & Services Clubs Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge.

The Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge program is designed for young community leaders and involves an arduous trek across the original Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, presentations at significant battle sites and discussions on sacrifice, courage, mateship, endurance and leadership.

Both Mitchell and Rebekah were speechless when they found out they were selected.

Mitchell has plans to join the armed forces and recognised the opportunity to further his interest that he has carried through his studies of military history and international security at University.  “I’ve grown up hearing stories of the legendary Kokoda Trail. I have read books on it out of my own personal interest but never thought I would be able to even picture myself standing on the trail and walking it.  This is a dream come true”.

Rebekah who is a Child and Family worker, is taking the trek to challenge herself and prove she has the fortitude to continue down her chosen career path working with disadvantaged communities and those within the justice system while honouring those who fought for our freedoms.  “My freedom is not something I take for granted and the Kokoda Trek symbolises mateship, dedication, and perseverance which are all at the very core of our country”.

Mitchell and Rebekah were honoured to take part in this year’s ANZAC Day service at Memory Park.  Both laid a wreath along with 2018 Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge recipients, Amber Vella and Ben Sayer.

Penrith RSL Club and Penrith RSL sub-Branch have been major supporters of the Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge for many years, sponsoring both staff and local youths. Their sponsorship covers the cost of the airfare, accommodation and food expenses, reaching well over $6,000 per participant.

“It is a big expense, but we think it is a great program. The experience that participants have is life changing”, said Penrith RSL Club CEO Neel Chand.

“Participants will hike over impossible terrain in tropical humidity. They will battle mosquitos, sleeping rough, constant mud and physical and emotional exhaustion. For all that though, they will also walk through real battle grounds, hearing stories about the soldiers and the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, they will experience first-hand the power and importance of mateship,” states Mr Chand.

“As challenging as the experience is, it is a transformational and rewarding experience that one could ever have.  It’s a once in a life time opportunity.”


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