RICHARD BRUINSMA | Sunshine Coast Daily
Derek Hughes, head of middle school at Caloundra Christian College, spent part of his childhood in PNG and has a soft spot for the locals.
So when the schools around Kokoda fall into hard times he has no hesitation to help.
"It's rough: pit toilets with snakes in them, sleeping on the floor; tough conditions but you don't seem to mind when you're there," Mr Hughes said.
"None of the schools or the hospital have electricity, the hospital does not have a doctor, the teachers' college doesn't have chairs or desks, no plumbing or sewerage, no running water. It is very basic living with most rudimentary facilities."
Mr Hughes was invited to the region by the Kokoda Track Foundation to visit schools identified as "at risk" and implement conflict resolution and pastoral programs.
One school had suffered as a result of teachers failing to adequately do their jobs, with others leaving without notice to work at the PNG elections.
"Teachers were left with large class sizes of between 50 and 100 students, and parents were getting angry and taking it out on the teachers that were there," he said.
Mr Hughes helped by suggesting ideas to the teachers and also speaking to parents, and was able to get "them back on the same side so they weren't tearing each other apart".
He also organised for the teachers and parents to sign a "treaty" that stipulated their responsibilities to each other, in order to encourage cooperation that ensured the best outcomes for the students.
"My observations are of a people who want more for their children," Mr Hughes said. "And teachers who are willing to work for free in terrible conditions.
"I visited one teacher this trip who left Year 10 a year or so ago, completed a six-week course on teaching prep, and is now the only teacher, working as a volunteer, in a Grade 3-8 school of 250 kids. How can I not try and do something to help this girl?"
It was the third trip to Kokoda in 18 months for Mr Hughes, who is motivated partly by the support given by the local people to Australian soldiers in World War II.
"The connection between the people of the track and Australians is definitely very strong as a result of the Kokoda campaign," Mr Hughes said.
"It's not just that they accept our help in a range of areas but that we have a debt to pay. The fuzzy wuzzy legend is a common one in Australian wartime folklore.
"Walk the track once and you get to see the truth behind the legend."