Here is what Keely had to say about her trip to Passchendaele…
It has been over a month since I returned and I’ve tried writing this article many times.
Whenever I sat down, feelings and memories flooded over me and I stopped because it was difficult to express what I had experienced, what I had seen and felt.
It was also difficult to say how grateful I am for Challenge 2000 and the New Zealand Defence Force for giving me this wonderful opportunity and supporting me on this journey.
On this journey I met many people from all three services, locals from the countries I visited and youth from all over NZ. They all will forever be a special part of my life. I had an incredible transit over and back stopping in Cairns Australia, Malaysia, Greece, Dubai. On our arrival in Belgium we hit the ground running and didn’t stop. Our days were full, with commemorations, cemetery visits, practices and performances of waiata and two special NZDF haka. At times it seemed a dream. It was hard to process and reflect on.
Then I was very humbled when asked to speak at the main ceremony on the 12th of October at Tyne Cot Cemetery. A cemetery where over 500 New Zealand soldiers lay. I accepted this invitation with pride and also fear.
I remember sitting in the front row alongside the VIPS including Willie Apiata, Prince William and Princess Astrid of Belgium. The most VIP all of us Youth Ambassadors had ever been with. That was almost overwhelming.
Then while I was waiting for my name to be called to speak, I thought through all my reasons for being here and who I was representing. I stood for the Leonard Hart the stretcher bearer whose diary entry I read. I stood for his family back home who knew of his suffering and work. I stood for all the soldiers who lay buried in the soil of Leper, a long way from home. I stood for my family, some of who had served here and those back at home. I stood for the YDU team and all the trainees. I stood for the youth of New Zealand AND I stood for Challenge 2000 and all the young people that myself and my colleagues stand beside and journey with in their tough lives.
When stepping on the stage and looking out beyond the crowds to the thousands of soldiers that lay there, far from Aotearoa New Zealand, my nerves settled and I felt a deep peace. On that day the crowd did not bother me, I spoke to remember those soldiers and acknowledge their hardship, sacrifice and lives.
The speech was for them and I am proud of how I spoke.
I realised that my past two years at Challenge 2000 has helped me with self confidence and a belief in my capabilities. I knew that my time on the LSV course had given me an inner strength and an appreciation of the NZDF and its values.
I looked back to myself, the Year 13 student in Central Hawke’s Bay and knew that she would not have been able to stand up and speak. I realised what saying yes to opportunities that pushed me outside my comfort zone, a sense of pride and the power of example can do.
I would not say I’ve conquered my fear of public speaking but my journey as a Youth Ambassador taught me a lot about how I am in control of those nerves and how a greater cause can lead us to put our fears aside.
My fears seemed so small as I sat beside the graves of our soldiers who died on the Western Front.
This is an experience – actually more than an experience that will remain with me forever. I still can’t express what I feel.