DAR ES SALAAM -- For the 10 women – seven Nepalis and three Africans – gathered at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro on the last day of February, it was no small challenge they had given themselves: to climb to the top of Africa’s highest mountain, nearly 6,000 metres above sea level.
It was a journey that began five years earlier when the Nepali women set out to scale Mount Everest, facing doubters from every corner, “You’re too small,” they were told. “The team doesn’t have enough experience.” “This isn’t the type of thing woman should attempt.” They went on to become part of most successful all-female team ever to conquer the world’s highest peak.
Though nowhere near as high as Everest, Kili remains the tallest free-standing mountain on earth and demands considerable reserves of strength and willpower - particularly for climbers whose lives have afforded them little preparation for such an adventure.
Ashura Kayupayupa, an activist for education and HIV/AIDS, grew up in Dar es Salaam and lost her father at an early age. Her Mother couldn’t afford to raise her yet worked every day in the market to contribute towards for her education. Anna Philipo Indaya is a member of the Hadzabe tribe, a nearly extinct hunter-gatherer group in Tanzania. And then there is Hlubi Mboya, South African actress and UN World Food Programme (WFP) Ambassador Against Hunger.
What women can do
“I’ll probably be the first Hadzabe, certainly the first Hadzabe woman to climb Kili,” said Anna, now a teacher in a school that WFP supports with school meals, as she took her first step up the mountain. “I want to show my students what women can do when they put their minds to it.”
Hlubi, star of the South African soap Isidingo and most recently of the film Death Race 3, has similar motivation: “This is a journey to empower and inspire African girls to be the champions they can be. I know it’s going to be tough mentally and physically but it will also bring me great joy.”
To commemorate International Women’s Day on 8 March, the team wants to show that, no matter what their background, there is nothing women cannot accomplish. “The mountain does’t care if you’re a man or a woman,” says Shailee Basnet of Nepal, “so why should society?”
Above all, the climbers want to highlight the importance of education for girls and the value of school meals which WFP helps provide in more than 60 countries worldwide. When the climbers return from the summit – eight days after setting out from the northern Tanzanian town of Moshi – they will visit schools around Arusha and Dar to tell their stories and inspire girl students.
WFP school meals
One of the seven Nepali women, Nim Doma Sherpa, was herself a recipient of WFP school meals before becoming, at the age of 16, the youngest ever female to summit Everest – a record she held until last year.
“We've had so many struggles to get where we are and it means so much to me to be here on Kili”, says Nimdoma. “This is one of my dreams and it’s great to be sharing the experience with this team, I’m learning so much.”
It is because of their spirit – and commitment to the cause of girl’s education – that WFP supported the Nepali women’s 2008 Everest expedition and is now backing their ascent, along with three African women, of Mount Kilimanjaro.