A mountain to climb for autism

Meet the two Dubai residents scaling Africa's highest peak

Area Guides

Benita Adesuyan meets two entrepreneurs scaling Africa’s highest peak in aid of Dubai’s autistic children.

Tina Søgaard-Pedersen and Ania Stal are two professional women with heads for business and hearts for good causes. This month the two friends are taking on the physical and psychological challenge of scaling Kilimanjaro to raise Dhs60,000 for the Dubai Autism Centre (DAC).

The pair are flying to Tanzania on Thursday July 3 following months of preparation and fundraising. Søgaard-Pedersen, 33, runs her own HR consulting company and has been living in Dubai for six years while Stal, 39, has been living in the emirate for seven years and works for the government. But they both feel that they want to contribute a lot more during their time here.

‘I’ve been given a good opportunity by the UAE in terms of setting up a company,’ says Søgaard-Pedersen. ‘Ania also has her own company so we wanted to give back to Dubai by supporting a good cause. We selected the Dubai Autism Centre because we have worked with them before and all the money we donated in the past has gone to the children. It was important to us knowing that whichever charity we picked the money goes to the right people.’ Søgaard-Pedersen is also undertaking the challenge in memory of her late friend Ruairi Flanagan, who had dedicated his life to helping autistic children.

Prior to the climb the women spent time with the children at DAC, where they also made a short film about the centre’s work. ‘We wanted to show our sponsors and donors the charity we had selected. We went down there and met the youngsters with their therapists. There we saw a group of children who were making badges. One of the kids was quite amazing; if you said a random date he could tell you which day of the week it was. It was incredible, the children had a lot of fun and were very interested in the cameras.’

The centre currently provides support, education and care for 150 children with various degrees of autism, but it needs help. With more than 250 children on its waiting list, the women hope that the money raised from the climb will help DAC to build an additional facility.

The challenge will be the first time that either of them have taken on the 5,895m peak, and for Stal it’s her first mountain challenge. Søgaard-Pedersen, originally from Denmark has taken on the three peaks challenge in the UK, climbing the tallest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales in 24 hours for charity. But the experience of Kilimanjaro will be new for both of them and Søgaard-Pedersen is confident that they are both physically prepared.

‘We’ve both been training hard for the last month. You don’t have to be super-fit to climb Kilimanjaro but it is more enjoyable if you are fit. Most people don’t make it to the top, not because they’re not fit enough but because of altitude sickness.’

Søgaard-Pedersen and Stal will be undergoing specialist altitude training to prepare their bodies for the effects of high-altitude on the climb, but how are they preparing for such an undertaking with Dubai’s lack of hills and mountains? ‘Every day I run up and downstairs my building like a mad man,’ says Søgaard-Pedersen ‘and then I do a lot of cardio and muscle training just to be sure that I have an enjoyable trip as well.’

During the gruelling challenge the women will be accompanied by a support team of carriers and guides for safety, and they say, the children at DAC will not be far from their minds and will serve as constant inspiration. ‘They say one in every 68 children is autistic and the number is growing, autism is present in a lot of families here and not everyone knows how to handle it. The centre is for all walks of life, not just the rich, it’s for everyone who suffers under the same circumstances.’

The duo are halfway to reaching their financial goal and donations can still be made via the website.

As they pack their bags and boots, Tina contemplates the challenge. ‘It doesn’t end the day we get on the plane to Tanzania, it ends when we get back and can say this is the product of our efforts.’
To make a donation to DAC and support the climb visit www.kiliclimbdubai.com.

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