A group of western suburbs teens are in training for a gruelling test of mud, sweat and overcoming fears when they tackle Papua New Guinea’s famed Kokoda Track.
The 19 young people will tackle the 96-kilometre challenge across rugged terrain next month alongside police from Melton, Brimbank, Wyndham and Maribyrnong.
Sunshine Police Inspector Dave Byrt said the majority of the youth have faced significant challenges in their life.
“A lot of them may distrust authority so the first part of this is building that trust,” he said.
“If you can grab hold of a youth at the right moment when they are heading in the wrong direction, you can make a big difference.”
Inspector Byrt said the program aimed to build social cohesion by re-engaging the youth with school, employment and community.
The trips first began about a decade ago with police in Moonee Valley.
“They were doing a leadership style program, we are focusing more on at-risk youth who may have had minor brushes with the law,” he said. “Hopefully it will give them a sense of meaning and build confidence.”
Inspector Byrt said feedback from returned trekkers showed the true value of such an adventure.
“They all have stated to a person that the program has had a significant impact in their lives,” he said.
To help build the necessary trust and pave the way for the teamwork that will be required on the trek, Victoria Police formed a partnership with the Les Twentyman Foundation.
Inspector Byrt said the foundation was already connected with the kind of youth they were looking to include in the program.
“We brought them all in with their parents and explained what it was we are trying to achieve,” he said.
“I would say 85 per cent of them are really keen and there are a few others that lack the confidence yet but they are coming around.”
Training is already well under way, with weekend walks in places such as Brimbank Park already under their belt.
“We are going to the MCG in a few weeks and will be marching up and down every step there,” Inspector Byrt said. But nothing can quite prepare them for the heat, humidity, rain and cultural challenges that await.
Inspector Byrt said these hurdles will all be part of what will cement the experience for those taking part.
“We’ve got them out of their comfort zone, they are over there connecting with the Papua New Guinea villages, giving them a perception and understanding of how lucky they are in their lives in comparison,” he said.
As well as directly helping the 19 youths taking the journey, the idea is that the positive outcomes will flow on through families and into the community.
Inspector Byrt said the police members taking part also relish the challenge.
“Our members love the experience, what they love most is watching and seeing the change that can occur in the youth over there.”
The team will be leaving for Kokoda at the end of next month.