47 grade 12 students from remote villages in Oro and Central Provinces graduated from KTF’s Kokoda College on Friday after successfully completing their secondary studies under the FODE program.
Now in its fifth year of operation, Kokoda College’s FODE program offers a second chance at education to those who slipped out of the school system. The College provides a pathway for those wishing to finish grade 12 or upgrade their exam results in order to pursue tertiary studies.
Located in Kou Kou village at the end of the Kokoda Track, the College offers grade 9 to 12 studies to 180 students each year to students from as far afield as Alola, to the Northern Beaches and Tufi.
Successful Grade 12 students proudly received their matriculation certificates from an official delegation including Ward 4 Councillor, Mr Sombiro; KTF CEO, Dr Genevieve Nelson; Kokoda Initiative Program Manager, Mr Patrick McCloskey and Kokoda College Principal, Mr John Yandawai.
The excitement of the day is captured by KTF Head of Education, Martha Bentley:
“The need for ‘locally-grown’ teachers and health workers has never been greater along and around the Kokoda Track. It is so exciting so see the Kokoda College FODE program helping to make that possible. Today, our Grade 12 graduates now have the option to pursue careers in education and health, and to go on to serve their communities. The flexibility of FODE, with its face-to-face learning at the College combined with self-directed study at home means people from remote villages, or with village or family commitments, can pursue their education. It truly is a second chance.”
The Kokoda College is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and the Kokoda Initiative.
The graduation was not the only celebration in Kou Kou on Friday, with the official opening of the village’s new preschool building. One of Oro Province’s only preschools has been operating in the local community hall for around eight years.
Committed teacher, Gwen Harika, teaches 35-40 students aged between 3 and 5 years old, starting them on their lifelong learning journey. The dedicated double classroom means that classes will no longer be cancelled when important community activities and meetings are held, and Gwen hopes to double student numbers with the new space.
The purpose-built classrooms have elements to promote early learning, including low desks, sand pits and play areas. It is appropriately called ‘Little Seedlings’, a place where young minds grow.
The new classroom is the second preschool built by KTF in the region, with a similar facility opened in Gorari in August 2021. Both early learning schools were made possible with the support of US-based donors, Little Hearts Learning.
Both celebrations reflect KTF’s ongoing commitment to accessible and quality education in the region, explains CEO Dr Genevieve Nelson:
“With the global pandemic bringing the Kokoda trekking industry to a halt, the past two years have been unusually quiet on the Track, with communities adapting to their ‘new normal’. During this time, it’s been vital we adapt what we do to keep delivering education and other programs in the communities we have been partnering with since 2003.
“Kokoda College is our ‘home’ and we’re committed to continue working with the communities from the mountains of Koiari to the beaches beyond in Oro and Central provinces. We’re absolutely delighted that we have been able to celebrate two incredible education milestones today with our students, friends, family and community.”
Since the outset of the pandemic, KTF has worked with key stakeholders in the greater Kokoda catchment to:
· Graduate 84 Grade 12 students from Kokoda College
· Make 340 places available to FODE students at Kokoda College
· Connect 2,069 households to solar energy, bringing a clean source of lighting and energy to the homes of 10,300+ people, including FODE students.
· Support the operation of 15 aid posts in the greater Kokoda catchment, providing access to primary healthcare to 60,000+ people, critical when facing the threat of COVID-19
· Delivered 120,000+ COVID-19 supplies, including hygiene (soap, hand sanitiser disinfectant, tippy taps), personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, face shields & gowns) and medical supplies (paracetamol, thermometers) to 25 health facilities, 50 schools and two colleges.
· Deliver individual personal protection packs (face masks and soap) to 3,000 people in Track villages from Naoro to Kovello through the ‘Protect-a-Porter’ Campaign
· Train 60 Oro health workers in COVID-19 vaccine administration
· Conduct integrated health patrols, including COVID-19 awareness and vaccination in the Northern Beaches and Kokoda catchment.
· Support 14 schools with teacher salaries and resourcing, enabling elementary schooling to continue
· Reach 3,000+ people with family and sexual violence education to combat family and domestic violence
· Support the operations of Oro Province’s only Safe House for those leaving family violence
· Implement a new sports-based program for adolescents, with 218 girls and boys participating in workshops on gender equality and health.
“In this 80th year of that historic battle that forged the great friendship between PNG and Australia, we remain inspired by that friendship and the spirit of Kokoda well and truly lives on.” said Dr Nelson.