Suzanne Al Houby, the first Arab woman to climb Everest, tells Benita Adesuyan how she hopes her expedition with two amputees to Mount Kilimanjaro might inspire people to support children with medical needs in Palestine.
Climbing 5,895 metres of steep rugged terrain is a challenge for anyone attempting to scale Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, but two teenage amputees have taken on the massive mountain in order to raise funds for children living in Palestine.
On January 23, Palestinian Suzanne Al Houby, the first Arab woman to summit Everest, led an expedition that helped 17-year-old Yasmeen Al Najjar, and 16-year-old Mutussam Abu Karsh to become the first two amputee teenagers from the Middle East to climb Africa’s highest peak. Yasmeen, from Boreen village near Nablus in The West Bank, Jerusalem, lost her leg when she was only three years old in an accident, and Mutussam, from Gaza, lost his leg to a tank shell. Both have been helped by the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), an organisation that provides medical assistance to children from the Middle East who cannot be helped in their home countries.
‘It is really a way of giving back,’ says Al Houby, who lives in Sharjah. ‘Before I climbed Everest I was just another mountaineer. People were celebrating the achievement and it was extremely rewarding, but at the same time I’ve been working with the PCRF for a while and the past few years there’s been a lot despair.
I experienced first-hand how many of this age group have nothing to look forward to. If you look outside the UAE and what’s happening in Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Libya, how can you expect these young people to dream if everything around them is like that?’
The aptly named Climb of Hope team aims to raise Dhs1million through various means. ‘I wanted to not only raise funds, but inspire these kids, this new generation, that there is hope after all. This is not just two teenagers climbing a mountain, but both are missing limbs and one is coming from a city that’s under siege and another from a little village in the middle of nowhere – if they can do this, then why can’t you be hopeful?’
Al Houby and a team of 13 climbers have been involved in overseeing the teenagers’ progress, and ensuring their safety. Working with the PCRF has given Al Houby a unique perspective into the difficulties the teens have faced, ‘Before we left, I went to the doctor who was helping with the prosthetics, and he made me fold my leg behind me. He put the prosthesis on me and asked me to walk. It was so difficult. It’s small things you take for granted, for example, if you step on a small rock, your nervous system will shoot up to your brain and tell you to balance but with a prosthesis you won’t have that. It gave me a small taste of what they go through.’
Al Houby explains that though the teens are in good health they had to train hard to ensure they reached the peak. ‘They even had to strengthen the stump, whatever is left of the stump had to be strong.’
The Climb for Hope is one part of the PCRF’s mission to raise awareness of the medical needs of children in Palestine and Lebanon. The organisation finds sponsors and runs volunteer missions to the Middle East, as well as sending sick and injured Arab children overseas for treatment.
Steve Sosebee, CEO of the PCRF, who was also part of the climb team says: ‘We hope this climb will achieve many important accomplishments, not least of which to raise awareness and support for our humanitarian medical relief work for children in the Middle East. We have many kids with medical conditions coming from conflict areas such as Syria, Iraq or Gaza who need medical care.’
As Al Houby and the team now return from their expedition, what can the rest of us do to support the cause? ‘We need volunteers who are willing to host children in their families. The duration of the stay can be a week or a month – being away from home to have medical treatment, all they want is to feel welcomed and catered for.’
Doing it for the kids
Gulf for Good
This charity organises sponsored challenges and adventures to raise funds for children’s charities all over the world.
www.gulf4good.org (04 368 0222).
Medecins Sans Frontieres
This international independent organisation provides medical humanitarian aid to people in crisis and war torn countries regardless of politics and agendas.
www.msf-me.org (04 457 9255)