WITH each swing of her axe, Olivia Worrell hacked further into the wood that would be used to fuel the fire for warmth on her first night isolated from society.
It was hard work for the 15-year-old from Wodonga who helped stack the pieces into an old wheelbarrow.
She remembers it began to snow that night; she stood there with her head tilted back and stared at the sky in amazement.
Olivia, now 18, had no phone, no power and no running water at the time, but she was happy being in a world away from the technology and Facebook which consume today’s youth.
“I wish so many times that I could go back,” she said.
Although it seems like another world, the Mittagundi outdoor education centre is just 140km from the Border.
A fundraiser will be held in Beechworth next Saturday so more kids like Olivia can benefit from the not-for-profit organisation.
The Catholic College Wodonga student had her doubts before she went on a 10-day program in 2013.
She said it was “daunting” to arrive with a group of kids just like her, but who she knew little about.
“Before I left, I was wondering how I would message my friends and tell them what I’m doing or send them photos,” she said.
“When I got there I realised I didn’t need my phone.
“Once we arrived and got into our hiking gear and had our boots on, we started working in the farm together and feeding the chickens.
“It was nice finding happiness out of the environment and people.
“Kids these days are so focused on ‘likes’ and status’ and photos on social media and I think it’s ridiculous.”
During her time at the camp, Olivia went hiking and cross country skiing between helping with the workload.
But it was the small things that stood out in her memory like dinner time and finding a shack tucked away in the mountains.
“Dinner was such a together thing, we would all go round the table and say a thank you, it wasn’t a religious thing, but it was being grateful to another person at the table for something they might have helped you with that day,” she said.
“When I got home I sat down for dinner with mum and I was like ‘what are you doing — I want to thank you for cooking this meal’.”
Olivia found it difficult to put into words just how valuable the experience was, but said it reminded her of what really mattered.
“We were staying in these two huts and were saying how weird it was that kids before us built this,” she said.
“Together, our group and the people who were there before us helped to create this place — it was a really nice feeling.
“Even though what we did was quite small, we helped out in the veggie garden and in the farmyard, that helped a bit for the kids who come next time.”
The camp ignited Olivia’s passion for adventure and inspired her to go on a 12-month exchange to Switzerland.
Still, two years on, her face lights up as she speaks about her memories of Mittagundi and how those 10 days shaped the person she is now.
Olivia’s mum Sandy said she noticed an instant change when her daughter returned home.
She said the impact of the camp was evident in her new adventurous outlook and her eagerness to say yes to opportunities.
“When she got back, she spoke about the joy of not having that technology in her face that whole time, it was incredible,” Ms Worrell said.
“She loved being responsible for meals and what they were doing.
“She is much more appreciative of the little things.”
Olivia still keeps in contact with the group from 2013 and encourages all students to do something similar to broaden their mind.
She said once you started exploring the world and the outdoors, you couldn’t stop.
“We were so happy and we didn’t want to leave, it was just such a good experience,” she said.
A CAMP hidden in the North East countryside is drumming up community support to help change the lives of teenagers.
Outdoor education centre Mittagundi gives youth a new perspective by taking away the modern day luxuries most people take for granted.
Participants aged between 14 and 17 live “the simple lifestyle” for 10 days with no power, phone, running water or parents.
Instead of television and Facebook they go bushwalking, camping, abseiling, rafting and help run a pioneering style farm.
Denis Ginnivan was so moved by the not-for-profit organisation he has been working to put on a fundraiser.
He said the camp did a huge service for the North East, but most people didn’t know about it.
“It’s a space where the deal is you work together to survive — to cut the wood, boil the water, cook the food and make things happen,” Mr Ginnivan said.
“But, it’s physically over the hills and far away so it doesn’t have a huge profile.
“I want to increase awareness and support, which I’m sure will happen once people realise how valuable and how great it is.”
Mittagundi receives no government funding and runs 11 programs per year plus 13 cross country ski programs during July and August.
It relies on up to $80,000 in donations annually to continue to provide affordable camps mainly aimed at state schools.
The organisation takes on about 500 students each year, with 200 of those coming from the North East.
Director at Mittagundi Liz Leyshan said she had seen significant improvements in schooling and social skills in her time with the volunteer-run organisation.
“It takes them back to basics and it’s quite amazing how young people make comments about how complicated they make their life at times by always concentrating on Facebook,” she said.
“I’m a volunteer myself and we come here to gain our own experience and pass on our skills and it’s a great venue for building experiences to further our potential and opportunities in the workplace.
“It is amazing how many people in the North East region still don’t know about Mittagundi.”
Beechworth Memorial Hall will come to life with a bush-dance, auction and country hospitality to raise money for the organisation.
People are encouraged to bring a plate of food to the barbecue dinner, which will be held from 6.30pm on May 30.
Tickets costs $30 per person or $60 for a family and can be purchased at trybooking.com/HKVT.