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Breaking barriers and making a lasting difference

After suffering the ultimate human tragedy in 2021, well-known radio personality Laimi Elago, in the depths of her grief, discovered solace and inspiration in the pages of Saray Khumalo’s book ‘My Journey to the Top of the World’.

“I had never had a long-term goal of hiking or even summiting any mountain, be it Brandberg, let alone Kilimanjaro,” says Elago.

However, the memoir propelled Elago to reflect on her own purpose and how she could make a lasting difference.

Elago says Khumalo’s memoir spoke at length about purpose, which is something that resonated strongly.

“At the age of 38, I found myself at a crossroads, as we all do in life at some point. Saray had found herself a successful executive at the top of the corporate ladder, with a house, car and all the other indicators of success, yet she was not fulfilled.

“Doing something difficult and challenging and outside one’s comfort zone can at times help one realign with themselves. We all need to do hard things so we can be reminded that we can do hard things,” says Elago.

“When Saray shared that she was looking for women to trek with her to Uhuru Peak for the 2023 Women’s Day summit for Women By Women, and that we would be summiting for a purpose, I thought to myself ‘this is it’.

“I think this was a Godly intervention and I knew I just had to be a part of this expedition.

Elago quickly reached out to her coach, Patrick de Goede, and his immediate response was, “You legend! I will get you mountain-ready”.

“On the back of that response, I contacted Saray and that was it. I found myself on my way to trekking Kilimanjaro with 21 other phenomenal women from across the globe,” says Elago.

The group will be led by Khumalo, who is the first black African woman to summit Mount Everest, on the journey to Kilimanjaro early next month.

Elago has also opted to document every step of her journey on the podcast ‘Laimi’s Kilimanjaro Diaries’, on which she shares all aspects of the process, from “the training to the gear and even my fears”.

“The podcast features interviews with amazing people who have conquered their own mountains, whether physical or metaphorical. Their stories will inspire and uplift as we explore the power of perseverance and determination.

“In addition, together with Khumalo’s non-profit Summits with a Purpose, we will be raising funds to bring a digital library to Kaupumhote Nghituwamhata Combined School at Oheti village in the Ohangwena region.

In terms of her preparation for this incredible adventure, Elago has certainly put in the blood, sweat and tears, having trained five days a week at CrossFit Damascus for a year.

“Unless I’m sick or travelling, you will find me at Damascus at 05h00. It is the foundation of my physical health, it’s helped me just to be able to survive everyday life. The more I moved my body, the more activity I liked and enjoyed.”

Elago describes running as her personal kryptonite, however, ever since she started running with her now dear friend Dr Nadine Agnew in February, every Monday and Wednesday, Elago says she now looks forward to her feet hitting the tarmac.

“On Saturdays, I hike with the group, Double Peak, which has made hiking accessible to many Namibians,” says Elago, who has so far hiked Moltkeblick, Grossherzog-Friedrich-Berg and Regenstein.

“What I can say is that it was easier to train because I had been training. I have learnt through my CrossFit journey that the body was designed to move.”

Elago quotes Khumalo as saying “why climb for a selfie when you can summit for a purpose!” and this is exactly what the Trek4Education Namibia project and the Women’s Day Summit for Women by Women aims to do, raise funds to benefit 1 200 Namibian school children, says Elago.

Khumalo’s non-profit aims to raise funds to provide educational opportunities for African youth from all walks of life in urban and rural communities, and her organisation has built 13 libraries across South Africa so far. She has a dream to build a digital library in each African country, and Namibia will be the first outside South Africa’s borders.

This includes a mobile iPad lab for accessibility and security, 10 iPads, a digital library with curriculum aligned content and full library inclusion for all, as well as pupils with disabilities, monitoring and evaluation, teacher training and mentoring support for one year.

To raise funds to build a library in Namibia, Trek4Education Namibia will host a 5km fun day hike on Saturday at Yellowstone Trails.

“I think by teaching myself, maybe by default, I will teach others that this life can be hard, but we can rise to the occasion, all of us.

“Challenges will come but we shouldn’t back down. I feel intimidated by this mountain and at times I am scared at the prospect of what is to come and what I will experience, but I know with God all things are possible.

“Leading up to this expedition I have learnt we cannot let fear control us, if there is something we want to do, we should at least attempt that thing. “Whatever your mountain is, we should not be guided by fear,” says Elago.

With the summit guided by women, and even the majority of porters being women, Elago is particularly proud that “two black African women – Khumalo and Dineo Dowd, will be leading us to the roof of Africa”.

Elago will arrive at Kilimanjaro Airport on 3 August, before overnighting at Moshi and beginning the trek the following day.

“We will start our trek reaching 1 950 metres above sea level, a three-to-four-hour trek.

The summit will take six days and involves many, many hours of hiking and altitude hikes.

“Finally, on 9 August, we have the summit push by far the steepest and most demanding part. We start at 01h00 and walk 11 to 15 hours, and we descent the same day. By 10 August, we are back at the starting point,” says Elago.

In terms of the challenges she can expect along the way, Elago says altitude is a major factor.

“Altitude is not about fitness, so that’s the great unknown, how will my body respond to altitude. Saray says mountaineering is 30% physical and 70% mental … so, being in a mental space to keep going when the legs refuse to take another step.

“I would like to appreciate Momentum Namibia, who is my summit partner and contributed financially to my fees, flights, and gear, as well as Radiowave.

Find ‘Laimi’s Kilimanjaro Diaries’ online to follow Elago journey.