A GROUP of 13 Australian volunteers has left for Kokoda as part of the new capacity-building programme.
The programme is funded by the Australian government to assist Papua New Guinea in protecting the Kokoda Track.
The volunteers’ mission was made possible through a partnership between Conservative Volunteers Australia and the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA).
KTA operations manager, Volker Scholz, revealed that the welfare of trackers and the community was of high importance in this initiative.
The mission has two aims: firstly, the maintenance of the track, and secondly, providing an alternative avenue of employment for the villagers along the track.
“Many of the people along the track draw an income by being porters, which is the primary avenue of self-employment.
“However, through this work, we would like to see the people take ownership of this landmark,” Mr Scholz said.
In pairs, the volunteers will spend six weeks in villages along the track, starting at Owers’ Corner, Manari, Efogi, Naduri, Kabelo and Kokoda villages.
The volunteers, mainly from conservation and environmental backgrounds, were thrilled with the opportunity of being in a country that was “environmentally fascinating”.
They also looked forward to the time they would spend in the communities.
The maintenance work by the volunteers will involve fixing drainage to stop soil erosion, digging rubbish pits, repairing the Kokoda airstrip and removing rubbish along the trail which they claimed was “destructive” to the surroundings.
“Conservation is very important, if the environment is not looked after well, there is the danger of it being blemished,” Tristan Gilmore, a volunteer, said.
“We are looking at the long-term benefits of this programme.
“Trekking this historic track is about the experience and not a five-star setting, that’s what tourists outside would like to see,” he added.
If the programme is successful, the partnership would look at doing more work next year and hopefully turn it into an ongoing activity.