We recently learned about 3 Peaks 3 Weeks, an annual all-female climbing event that raises money and awareness for key issues facing Africa, and we were immediately intrigued. Bringing women from around the world together to summit Mt. Kenya, Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro, 3 Peaks 3 Weeks is certainly a combination of adventure, inspiration and positive change. We caught up with one of the participants, Chris Kassar (who’s also part of our favorite Rios Libres) to learn more about this woman-powered initiative and how it’s bringing real change to Africa.
In January 2011 (which is fast approaching!), I will join a team of 11 ordinary women from around the world as we attempt to summit 3 of Africa’s highest peaks (Mt. Kenya, Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro) in just 3 weeks! Our aim is to raise money and awareness to address 3 peak issues currently threatening Africa: environment, education and health. In between each climb we’ll spend time with the African organizations that 3 Peaks 3 Weeks supports so we can see where each dollar we have raised is already helping to make a difference.
How have you been training for the event?
I haven’t had to change much in my life to train since I’ve always spent a majority of my free time running around outside. However, I’m aware that this is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done so I’m definitely ramping up my usual efforts.
Ironically, I was in the middle of trekking in the Himalaya when I found out that I was chosen to be part of the 3 Peaks 3 Weeks team for 201. I had just been to Everest Base Camp that very day. So…I guess my training was already well under way since I spent the majority of 2 months in Nepal hiking with a heavy pack over rough terrain at pretty high altitude.
At home here in Flagstaff, I get out into the mountains as much as I can and however I can – skis, snowshoes, running shoes, mountain bike, hiking boots. I am also currently spending a lot of time on a road bike and in the water since I am training for my first triathlon. I’m really new to swimming and biking so this is a good challenge. My success on these climbs is going to be just as dependent on my mental fitness as my physical fitness so yoga, meditation and visualization are an important part of preparing for Africa, as well. Breathing at altitude can be so hard, but yoga and meditation have made this a lot easier for me.
To get some real life climbing practice and altitude exposure, my friend Julie and I are going to do a “3 Peaks 3 Days Challenge.” So, next week we are heading to Colorado for 5 or 6 days of backpacking during which we will summit three 14ers (peaks above 14,000 feet) in 3 days.
Why do you think going on an all-women expedition is so powerful?
With each passing year, I have come to value the brilliant, passionate, tough, sweet, bold women in my life more and more. Sisterhood (both genetic and chosen) is one of the most powerful bonds that I have ever encountered. It’s hard to explain in words, but something happens when “sisters” tackle a challenge together – things get done, fun is had, passion oozes and confidence grows. Our power on this expedition will come from the fact that we are united around a common goal. Our ability to support each other, work as a team and rise to the challenge is critical if we are to accomplish what we have set out to achieve.
Aside from its impact on those of us participating, I think part of the power of an all-women expedition comes when others witness it. Even though it is 2010, I still think it is imperative for the rest of the world to see women demonstrating their strength, courage, bravery and determination.
The goal of the expedition is to raise awareness of three peak issues facing Africa: Environment, education and health. How do the three go hand in hand and how does supporting one support the others?
These are the largest issues affecting East Africa today and I believe that addressing all 3 of them is critical for the future of the people and lands of Africa because doing so is key to reducing the impacts of poverty. Simply put, providing someone with basic healthcare and education can provide them with an entire future. And because East African communities are typically incredibly dependent on their surrounding environment, it is also imperative to conserve wildlands while benefiting the surrounding communities.
Halting environmental degradation, providing education for more children and improving health care are going to become more and more important as populations continue to rise and development progresses. These are tangible and hopeful issues to focus on because individuals and groups can have a concrete impact on them; with some dedication and effort a person can create positive change in these arenas by taking action and accountability, whereas other issues – i.e., corruption – would be more difficult to target directly.
There are a lot of groups that have launched in the past few years that focus solely on women’s issues. In a place like Africa, what do you think are the benefits of this?
Actually, all 3 organizations we support do not only focus on women or women’s issues. In some cases there are certain projects that do, but overall these organizations serve a broad range of people who need help. Nonetheless, those groups that focus solely on women’s issues are extremely important. Because of the central role that women hold within communities, they are often the key to helping families and villages out of poverty.
All of the money that you raise goes straight to Africa, while you’re responsible for your expedition costs (~$10,000). That’s a lot of money. Why do you feel strongly about putting that amount of your personal money into this kind of travel?
In the past year I spent a good deal of time in Nepal, Southeast Asia and South America. As is always the case while traveling, I was reminded of how lucky I have been throughout my life and how much I have to offer to this world as a result of where I was born and the opportunities I’ve been given.
Traveling reinforced my gratitude for simple things like freedom, health, family, peace, access to education, clean drinking water, financial security and physical safety. These are things I often take for granted, yet each day of my journey I was reminded that there are millions of people throughout the world who do not have the same luxury. And so, the financial challenges are outweighed by my desire to use my talents and tenacity to help this amazing planet and those who don’t have as much as I do.
Besides supporting this expedition, what’s one thing that people can do to have a positive impact on these issues facing Africa?
Great question because it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by big problems in a continent that can feel so far away….It’s a tough one because there is no “quick fix.” Direct handouts may have their place in emergency situations, but supporting those kinds of programs in East Africa is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that really needs surgery. So, I’d suggest that people learn as much as they can about the situation and support initiatives, programs, groups and individuals that empower people to take control of their own future; those that follow along with this idea: “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
That’s the amazing thing about 3 Peaks 3 Weeks – all of the money I raise goes to sustainable projects that enable individuals and communities to be accountable for their own success over the long-term.
This trip and cause is pretty inspirational. What inspires you on a daily basis?
Nature – She inspires me because she is simultaneously strong, graceful, beautiful, powerful, loving and humbling.
My family – My mom and dad, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins are each an inspiration in their own way, but they share a common thread which also inspires me: they all sure know how to give love! And even though they may worry about me because of the crazy way I’ve chosen to live my life, they support me and believe in me no matter what.
My 5 year old friend Finley who just had open heart surgery and his parents – They have inspired me to be fearless and to act fearlessly.
People who work to make their dreams a reality regardless of the associated challenges.
The rare beings who are truly honest with themselves and with others.
Chris will be heading to Africa in January. To help support the cause of 3 Peaks 3 Weeks, you can donate by clicking here.