South Africans off to summit Kili for Caring4Girls


Each step to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, no matter how slowly it is taken, will be for beneficiaries of Caring4Girls, says Melissa Rehbock. She is one of about 40 participants of the 2016 Trek4Mandela Kilimanjaro Expedition. The expedition takes place annually.

She is aiming to take it slowly, one step at a time. The Capetonian and others left South Africa for Tanzania on Wednesday, 13 July to start the expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro. Kili, as it is known, is the highest mountain on the African continent. It rises approximately 4 877 metres from its base to 5 895 metres above sea level.

kili_Melissa_Rehbok Melissa Rehbock says she will take it one step at a time to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. She and others aim to fundraise to assist thousands of girls with sanitary pads. (Image supplied)

The aim

The target of the initiative this year is to help 350 000 South African girls who are not able to buy their own sanitary towels, says the Trek4Mandela website. According to research, girls from impoverished backgrounds could miss up to 50 days of school each year as a result of these challenges.

“Trek4Mandela aims to create awareness of the Caring4Girls programme and give much-needed accessibility to sanitary towels. This, together with effective hygiene education, will ensure the development and growth of thousands of young South African and African women. Our ultimate goal is to reach two million girls by 2020,” reads the site.

In a video on YouTube, a teacher says that some of the girls at her school are afraid to ask for a sanitary pad. This is one of the reasons she is happy that the Caring4Girls initiative was created by the Imbumba Foundation.

Watch the beneficiaries of Caring4Girls explain how this project affects them:

Nerve-racking expedition

“It’s the altitude that is the biggest factor [on the expedition] and not always how fit one is,” Rehbok explains, although she thinks she is fit enough for the expedition. “No-one knows how their body is going to react to the altitude, so that’s a little nerve-racking.

“We will be going slowly as one does on Kilimanjaro. The term is ‘pole pole, slowly slowly.'”

Training started six months ago. It included hiking, running and strength training in the gym.

Rehbock says she learned about Caring4Girls in May last year. “When I heard about the Trek4Mandela climb, I immediately said I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to be part of something so special and raise as much money as I could for the initiative. The dream has become a reality.”

On a Skype call recently with women from Saudi Arabia, she learned lack of access to sanitary pads was a wider problem. “This cause [girls having the lack of access of sanitary towels] does not only happen in South Africa.”

Freezing conditions

Carmen Cupido, who lives in Johannesburg, says the idea of summiting Kilimanjaro in the middle of the night by walking 1.5 kilometres over three hours in freezing conditions and little oxygen, terrifies her. “But I am a brave person. That’s what I tell myself.”

Her last physical challenge was running a marathon (42.5km) in 2010. She is looking forward to the camaraderie, fitness and rediscovering her deeper reserves of determination. “I want to achieve new goals with my body, mind and spirit.”

Cupido is one of six in Seacom’s team. The company is a submarine cable operator.

As part of their training, in the last five months they had five group training sessions. “Two of the sessions were Drakensberg 18km hikes. The other three were Suikerbosrand 12km hikes, which were followed the next day with two hours of Westcliff stairs training,” explains Cupido. “Individually, hikers are doing their gym training, running and/or cycling, strength training and Pilates. This varies from person to person.”

kili_Seacom Albie Bester, Suveer Ramdhani, Carmen Cupido, Kelly Crofton, Sibusiso Khanye and Lizaan de Jongh make up the 2016 Seacom Kilimanjaro team. (Image supplied)

Kelly Crofton, one of Cupido’s colleagues, says she is looking forward to meeting new people, sharing stories and learning more about herself.

The Kilimanjaro expedition is something completely out of her comfort zone.

Happy to be part of a team to raise funds for Caring4Girls, Crofton adds: “Quite frankly, no girl should not have no option but to stay absent from school because they have their period. Nor do they have to face the humiliation of not having a sanitary pad when their period is due.”

She hopes their fundraising will give a few girls the opportunity of having one less stress in their lives.

Sibusiso Khanye, another Seacom employee, says to summit Kilimanjaro has always been his dream. A Comrades runner, he is proud to be touching lives and making a difference by helping Caring4Girls.

Watch an interview with Samantha Pillay, who was diagnosed with lupus disease. She spoke to the SABC about why she is doing this year’s expedition:

Promoting Mandela Month

Richard Mabaso, founder of the Imbumba Foundation, started the Caring4Girls initiative in 2012, shortly after he overheard that one of his nieces did not have access to sanitary pads.

He told Sello Hatang, the chief executive officer of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, about Caring4Girls and that fundraising for it was the reason for summiting Kilimanjaro.

Speaking to the SABC, Mabaso says: “One thing we owe to Madiba is to start taking a leading role as South Africans to educate people about Mandela Day… in terms of what it means and to really go beyond 18 July.”

Madiba is Mandela’s clan name.

The pillars of Mandela Day 2016 are: education and literacy, food security, shelter and the environment. The Nelson Mandela Day website encourages South Africans and international supporters to “Make every day a Mandela Day” by taking action and inspiring change. The annual day is on Madiba’s birthday, 18 July.

The oldest person to summit Kili was 80, according to Mabaso. “Sometimes it’s not about your fitness, but your discipline. You have to be disciplined: drink water, take one step, take a rest and then take another step.”

Supporters flooded Twitter with their well wishes for the expedition:

Advice on climbing Kili

Sibusiso Vilane, their expedition guide, gave him the following advice, Mabaso says: “He told me to internalise the climb when you get to the mountain. It must be a personal journey.

“So one: set up your summit. Break down your summit into mini summits. Your first day you should be about: ‘I want to get to the gate. I want to do the first hike and I want to get to the next camp.’

“The minute you step down, it becomes easier. People are more challenged by their mental fitness.” reporter

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