By Moza Al-Thani
What would motivate a young Qatari Shiekha who has it all to leave the comforts of home behind and sleep in a tent with no shower for a week to climb a mountain?
After hearing about the slaughter of women and children in Gaza last August, 21 year old Maryam Al-Thani decided she needed to do something to help. To raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians and funds to help rebuild schools in Gaza, she decided to climb 5,895 metres to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. A month of rigorous training under the guidance of her cousin, adventurer Shiekh Mohammad (Moe) Al-Thani, was only the start of the challenge for this Qatari born Londoner, who also faced 7 days of mental, physical and emotional challenges.
Here, she tells Eluxe about reaching one of the highest points–literally–in her life.
What motivated you to do the climb?
Trekking for a cause has always seemed like such a powerful statement, and for some reason I’ve always perceived it to be a Western initiative; hiking to raise awareness remains fairly unfamiliar ground for people in the Middle East, and I wanted to be a part of the change in that notion. I remember the first time I saw Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani’s call to raise funds against the spread of Malaria in 2010. That was the moment I knew that I would do something of the sort, and climb for a cause. Though not knowing when or how, just that raising awareness of a cause close to my heart by climbing would be an important step for me. Hiking to raise money for schools in Gaza and the Occupied territories as part of a Reach Out to Asia initiative was a cause that I believed in wholeheartedly.
How did you prepare?
Being one of the last people that joined, I had one month to train for Kilimanjaro. Luckily, we had one of the greatest support systems, with Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, Masoud Kalafchi and Raed Zidan – all experienced climbers – who made sure that we had all the appropriate gear and training preparations prior to the climb. During all of this, we were also actively fundraising to reach our donation goals for the cause.
We had to figure out different ways of fundraising and appealing to our community as it was a new concept, whereby few understood the relevance of raising money for a climb, however the awareness and publicity that we generated was overwhelming. Sponsorship was one of the effective ways that brought us to our goal of 1 million Qatari riyals; other ways included bake sales in schools and universities, and various other contributions by the community.
Of course, to do such a climb, you have to have been active and fit enough to undergo training, but there were certain training methods used to further our fitness to an advanced level. We walked as a group up and down the stairs of the Torch Hotel in Doha to practice, and used other more unique methods, including wearing backpacks on the treadmill at an incline, to gradually accustom our bodies. Training in Doha posed its challenges: the terrain in Qatar doesn’t prepare you to climb a mountain, quite the opposite in fact, though we always found alternatives methods to train.
How did you feel when you started?
I had met most of the people in the group for the first time on the plane on our way to Kilimanjaro (the only one in this position as I joined late). It was scary not knowing the group, especially considering that I was to share a tent and seven days on a mountain with them. After a 9-hour flight I felt very comfortable and excited for what was coming ahead. There was no element or thought of not making it to the summit since we were climbing for the support of the children in Palestine. With such strong motivation, climbing for a purpose makes it all the more incredible of an achievement.
What was the greatest challenge you faced
I would say learning how to inspire people to contribute to a cause that you believe in and to fundraise, and knowing how to generate the right kind of buzz
Also, while hiking up the mountain taking your time and listening to your body will help immeasurably in avoiding altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is one of the main reasons most people don’t make it to the summit, so it becomes very important to take one step at a time. Being fit allowed me to enjoy the experience and really appreciate the different terrains that we trekked through on the mountain.
The biggest challenge on the mountain was the final push on summit night, walking from 11pm to 7 am and then back down for 4 hours is not an easy task. Keeping in mind that it’s not just the walk up but continuing to walk back down to 3rd Camp is difficult both mentally and physically.
Describe the sensation when you finished: what did you see? Do? Feel
Exhausted! Drained, but very proud. I was extremely proud of how far we have come as a country, for people to be open enough to allow us to go is a great achievement, even though outside of the Gulf it might not be a big deal and people outside of Qatar don’t always understand that. Instead of people criticising a mixed gendered group of people on hiking up a mountain an overwhelming amount showed their support and it translated in the donations we received. I felt very proud of the group and all of us supporting each other since we were the only group that day that had 100% success rate on reaching the summit. We had the best support and that made me feel extremely proud for Qatar
What was the result of the climb? What did you learn?
There are many technical experiences that can be learnt on a mountain, and cleanliness goes down the drain quite fast! Learning to appreciate the support was great. The privilege that we have as people is amazing. Mostly I learnt that we don’t need all these things that we hold on to, people can survive and live and be nourished without having too many things. Also, learning that once a goal is set out that is very precise, it becomes a target that is fathomable and achievable.
The mountain becomes a place to get away to reflect on yourself and your place, allowing me to listen and become part of nature and stillness and to appreciate the life you are given. Having a goal and achieving it feels great, but the different terrains that exist on the mountain are incredible. There was one day where it looked like we walked into Jurassic Park with such untouched beautiful nature that has existed for thousands of years, untouched by man, and that is what made it most beautiful.
Tell us more about the charity you raised money for?
The charity that we had collaborated with was Reach out to Asia, it’s a non-profit organisation under the auspices of Qatar Foundation dedicated to improving the quality of education in schools. The specific schools that we were raising funds for were the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The climb was arranged right after the devastating 50 day war that damaged most of the villages and communities in the Occupied territories. The initiative became to re-build 20 schools in the West Bank and Gaza. From the initial goal of raising 1 million riyals, through all the generous donations and great support we were able to exceed peoples expectations by raising 2.3 million riyals.
What is the next challenge you’d like to undertake?
The next challenge for me is trying something completely different, but along the same lines of being active for charity. My hopes are to be prepared enough for the Global Biking Initiative, which cycles for charity. We will cycle from Venice (Italy) to Stuttgart (Germany), cross the Alps. Joining a cycling team in Qatar called Sandstorms, we have been working hard to represent Qatar in the annual GBI ride. Pushing ourselves to promote the fundraising culture amongst Qatari youth through sporting events. As well as to encourage youth to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle through cycling. In association with the Qatar charity, our goal is to rebuild a school in Gaza.
Would you do this again?
Yes! I had a very positive experience on the mountain. I would like to explore some other parts of the world through hiking and learning about cultures while giving back to my own.
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