Nine schoolgirls, two teachers and one parent made up the Arundel team that in August scaled the heights of Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness for the Michael Project.
A seven day trip, of which six were spent climbing and only one for the descent, the team walked six to eight hours a day, spending considerable time acclimatising to the lessening oxygen levels.
“We were alright until the last day,” says teacher Deevia Chohan, who was the trip’s principal organiser. “All of us had some degree of altitude sickness. We could only stay at the summit for ten minutes due to the lack of oxygen.”
Chohan says that the trip was all about challenging the girls, teaching them courage and determination. 25 girls started the training, which began at the beginning of the year, and only nine made it. Some of them were knocked out by the finances as all costs had to be met by the families. Only one girl who went didn’t make it to the top as she was struck down by oedema on the final day.
The exuberant team presented a video of their experience to school assembly on 18 September. They also presented a cheque for $2,740 to Dave Hobbs from the Michael Project, which is a home for abused and abandoned children in Marlborough.
“I want to say a huge thank you to the entire team for this huge effort,” said Dave Hobbs from the Michael Project, speaking at the assembly. He said that the funds that were raised are going to make an amazing difference in the children’s lives at Shalom House, where there are 17 children from disadvantaged backgrounds. “I just loved seeing the Michael Project flag at the top of Kilimanjaro.”
Lisa Mhlaba (L6) was one of the girls who made it to the top. “There were massive glaciers everywhere and amazing open views to the horizon. I felt very happy and proud of what I had achieved. The whole experience of being in a team and reaching the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is a huge milestone in my life.”
Fellow student Rutendo Chirindo (U6) agrees. “Climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro was the greatest mental, physical and psychological challenge I have faced in life.”
Varsharanee Roopan (L6) had this to say, “Every one of us experienced something different that night. For me that night, I was one of the unfortunate people who lost excess liquid by vomiting. I hadn’t had much of an appetite for the past two days, so after this happened I had no energy at all. To make things worse my climbing poles froze so I had nothing to lean on; walking had never been so difficult and such a burden. It was pitch black and over a hundred people were summiting with us. Looking up was a devastating mistake and the most demotivating thing to do. When you felt you had climbed at least 5hrs and were nearly there all you saw were a million headlights shining metres above you and not being able to see where the line of lights ended. I won’t lie – I’ve never thought about giving up so many times in my life than I did in those 8hrs climbing up. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally and that night the power of a simple action, closing my eyes and picturing my family and not wanting to disappoint them was the only reason I summited and when I did I watched the most pivotal sunrise of my life. As for what I felt when I did, that’s indescribable…”
The Michael Project was started by Sue Austin as a trust fund. It now has a daycare centre for kids at Chikurubi Prison, Shalom House which is a home for abused and abandoned children.