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Danielle Cormack is putting on her hiking boots for her next big role as a Kokoda Trail Trekker.

The award-winning actress, and long-time ChildFund Australia ambassador, says she’s looking forward to pushing her limits – and raising her step count – to help support children and their families in Papua New Guinea and beyond. 

“ChildFund Australia’s 2024 Kokoda Trek will be a new challenge – I’ve done a lot of walks rather than tackling a longer trek,” Danielle says. “I’ve done 100km in 26 hours, which was intense, but Kokoda will certainly be testing given that it’s longer and spaced out over more days.” Although the Wentworth and Underbelly star is under no illusion about the magnitude of the trek (150km through steep, rugged terrain and riverbeds), Danielle is taking it all in her stride, preferring to remain optimistic about the road ahead. 

“I’ll be honest, I haven’t started training yet,” she says “But I love being active, when possible walking is my number one mode of transportation. I’m relatively fit so I’m not too worried…famous last words!”

If anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Danielle. She’s a force to be reckoned with; not only does she have an appetite for adventure (she’s a longtime motorcyclist and Harley Davidson enthusiast) but has also built up a special kind of stamina that comes from years juggling multiple work commitments and time zones while filming television shows around Australia and abroad. 

Danielle says she tends to dive headfirst into projects and causes she’s passionate about. “It’s not in my nature to sit back and remain quiet, especially when it comes to the health and safety of children, and in turn their families or care givers” she explains. “No one should have to unnecessarily suffer. It’s human decency to help others in need – there is no hesitation, it just makes sense to me.” 

Danielle doesn’t shy away from confronting roles and situations, both onstage and offstage. Last year, she visited Moldova with ChildFund to meet and support Ukrainian mothers and children impacted by the war. She returned home to Australia to share their stories and advocate for aid for displaced families.

Part of my advocacy work, if possible, is to be on the ground and talk to the people that have been impacted and those delivering aid. As an ambassador it’s important to hear that first-hand, so I have a greater understanding of their situation to be able to relay their experiences.

Danielle Cormack

Danielle said the visit to Moldova’s refugee spaces was an eye-opening experience. “Speaking to the mums who are voraciously trying to protect their children, trying to shelter them from this terrifying displacement was certainly impactful and a reminder that they need support during these times. I was particularly moved by one boy who spoke to me about having to leave his home and how he wasn’t sure if he still had one. But he still had dreams of wanting to be a pilot. Hearing their stories, I just wanted to support these families as best I could.” 

“Part of my advocacy work, if possible, is to be on the ground and talk to the people that have been impacted and those delivering aid. As an ambassador it’s important to hear that first-hand, so I have a greater understanding of their situation to be able to relay their experiences.”

Next year, as ChildFund Australia’s ambassador, Danielle will be meeting mothers facing domestic violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG). For women in PNG, violence is part of everyday life with more than 80% affected by intimate partner violence. Danielle will visit ChildFund’s 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain call centres – Papua New Guinea’s first national telephone counselling service providing support to hundreds of people affected by family and sexual abuse and gender-based violence – and speak with survivors.

“I hope to raise awareness about the domestic issues for women in the area and see first-hand the amazing work ChildFund is doing,” she says. “I’m looking forward to hearing their stories.”

When it comes to gearing up for the trek, Danielle says she is taking it one day at a time and suggests her fellow trekkers do the same. “I really love walking and being in nature – it’s my happy place. But I know it can be daunting or a chore at first, so just start walking. It can be 10 minutes and then 12 minutes and then, before you know it, you’ve built up to three hours a day. Also, practise on hills.”

In the meantime, Danielle is focused on hitting her fundraising target and prepping for life on the trail. She’s already got her essential backpack items sorted (a water bottle, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, plasters, and headphones).

“This is an experience of a lifetime. I’m really excited to be taking part in this challenge and want to encourage people to join me on the trail or, if not, help support ChildFund’s programs and projects around the world in other ways.”

Watch this space!

Find out how you can join Danielle Cormack on the Kokoda Trail and help make a difference to children around the world here.

On a recent trip to Papua New Guinea, two of ChildFund Australia’s Board members discovered how grassroots activities were making all the difference in helping to protect children from violence.

“Thirteen provinces – more than half of all the provinces in PNG – are not connected by road,” ChildFund Australia Board member, Michael Pain, said of his recent trip to the Pacific Island nation. “There’s a road from the capital, Port Moresby, but it ends suddenly. Beyond this, it’s just jungle.”

Michael, and fellow Board member, Tureia Sample (pictured above, and on the right in green and khaki), were far from the comforts of their homes in Australia when they visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) in early 2023 to see ChildFund’s programs in action. The journey took them into the rural areas and remote communities, but it wasn’t an entirely new experience for them: Tureia was born and grew up in PNG; and Michael had walked the Kokoda Track several years before.

But the trip in February with ChildFund showed them a new and first-hand perspective on some of the day-to-day challenges faced by people, particularly children and women, in PNG – and how ChildFund was working with their communities to create positive change.

“Having grown up in PNG, I knew about the poverty, but being there as a ChildFund Australia Board member – and not as someone in the family or the village – I saw things from a much more objective perspective,” Tureia said. “I saw the challenges of poverty and development more starkly.”

Child abuse is confronting but village courts ‘saving lives’

Papua New Guinea has some of the highest rates of family and gender-based violence in the world. Two in three women and girls in PNG experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

As a lawyer, Tureia was particularly moved by the impact of the village courts system that ChildFund PNG helped to implement in remote communities in Central Province. “It’s a grassroot activity empowering and training local people to resolve disputes in their villages in accordance with customary law,” she said. “It’s a completely different standard compared to what we have in Australia, but it was inspiring to hear the impact the courts were having on the lives of children and women in particular.” 

Child abuse happens in Australia, but the conditions and severity of it in PNG were confronting, said Tureia. “There was one very sobering story of an eight-year-old boy whose stepfather repeatedly used fire, knives, and razor blades to cut his genitals and burn his skin. The awareness raised by the village courts around needing to report violence led to neighbours bringing the boy before the court and protecting him.

“It’s a terrible story, but it was inspiring to see how the village courts supported by ChildFund had helped to eventually save this boy’s life.”

An ‘enormously valuable’ helpline for survivors of violence

Another ChildFund initiative in PNG to help protect children and support survivors of violence is the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, a national telephone counselling helpline. It is the first and only helpline of its kind in PNG for people experiencing family, sexual or gender-based violence.

Helpline counsellors, who have been trained with ChildFund’s support, have access to a database of more than 350 services across the country, including safe houses, medical facilities and local police.

“It’s not your average run of the mill helpline,” Michael said. “It’s an enormously valuable resource, but a very tough one operationally to keep up to date. There are services and facilities available all over the country, but these are extremely fluid. The capacity and level of support changes and differs between communities. If our counsellors have a caller who is in an emergency or crisis, they need to quickly determine which services are operational in the caller’s area and which will be the most useful.”

The helpline has expanded since it was established in 2015 and now services more than 25,000 people across PNG every year. It is gaining recognition from the PNG government and communities as an important service for survivors of gender-based violence, and family and sexual violence.

The growth and positive impact of ChildFund’s projects such as the helpline and village courts support were a result of the hard work and passion of ChildFund’s staff and local partners, said Michael and Tureia. The strong connections between staff and local leaders and communities have also been critical to making sure children and families get the support they need. “ChildFund Papua New Guinea’s staff are very well respected in communities,” Tureia said.

Michael said he was impressed by how effective ChildFund’s programs were in PNG. “Given the cultural and economic challenges of the country, it was awesome to see the positive difference we are making to people’s lives.”

The projects in this story are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).