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Here at Elephant Creative Towers, we’re surrounded by a wonderful team of associates… each with their own marketing and PR gifts. But every now and then, one of them goes above and beyond and does something totally inspiring.  Jessie Allen (@jammyminx) has just come back from a life-changing trip to climb to Everest Base Camp, with Women for Women.  We thought we’d let you read about it in Jessie’s own words…

I’ve just experienced the most mentally and physically toughest three weeks of my life. Harder even then the four days I was in labour delivering my daughter (yes, really 4!)

I’m just back from 18 days of trekking in the Himalayas to reach Everest Base Camp in aid of international charity Women for Women. But just like my daughter’s birth, the trek was one of the most rewarding and life changing events in my life.

About six months ago, I received an email from the charity looking for nine women to do this trip with Sue Harper Todd, one of only 5 British women to reach the summit of Everest. While we would not be summiting Everest, the trek to Base Camp would involve a serious time commitment, with travel and acclimatization, of 18 days. 9 days up, 3 down and a few days in Kathmandu to rest.

As part of the Everest Base Camp challenge, the charity asked each of us to pay our own way and commit to raising £10,000 each. £100,000 in total, all of which would go directly to the charity. Women for Women run year-long programmess in which women from war torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and South Sudan, are taught marketable skills, their legal rights and are given counselling to rebuild their lives so they can become self-sufficient.

Physically, the Trek involved long days of trekking ultimately reaching an altitude of 5600 metres.

It was hard. Really, really, really hard. Uncomprehendingly-until-you-actually-experience-it-you’ve-got-no-idea-how-hard-it’s-going-to-be-hard. And of course I didn’t train enough. The trek was labeled as suitable for moderately fit walkers, which I thought, hey presto that’s me. I do go to the gym after all and walk everywhere in London and regularly do yoga and pilates. Ha! Double ha!

We walked on average every day between 4 to 8 hours, mostly up hill with severe gradients, often on uneven, rocky terrain and always at ever increasing higher altitudes. High altitudes means there’s less oxygen in the air so your muscles have to work that much harder. Just putting one foot in front of the required a serious conscious effort. Someone from our team saw us all trudging up one particularity steep hill on the way to Labouche and she likened us to astronauts. We were walking so slowly, she said it looked like we were walking on the moon. That’s exactly what it felt like too. Moonwalking up a mountain but without the benefit of a can of oxygen on your back.There were times when I only manged to get up steep ‘hills’ like Namche Hill which had a 500 metre rise at a gradient of 30 degrees by repeating to myself ‘One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.’ on a loop. It might have taken me five hours to get up that hill, but I did it. 

But it was the combination of the physical challenge, with truly primitive conditions (I didn’t shower for nine days and toilets are often just holes in the ground), increasingly limited food choices (rice, bread or potato and that’s about it), the length of the journey, and of course, the group dynamics of nine strangers thrown together on this intense and tough journey, which really made this an endurance test. There were days that I really didn’t think I could take any more – being unable to breathe or sleep, slipping on yak poop in a particularly perilous patch of trail, the no shower for nine days, the same stinking clothes, the altitude sickness, my heart continually pulled away by my two and a half year old daughter whom I left behind at home and missed deeply.

I despair to say that the day we trekked to Base Camp, our goal, my mind was tugging me back to relative comforts of our lodge. I no longer cared about reaching accomplishing our mission anymore. I just wanted to go home, see my daughter and get clean and eat vegetables.

But the strength of the group pulled me along and I did make it. And what an experience it was.

Not just to reach accomplish our goal, though that sense of achievement I’ll take with me everywhere for a long time. But because we had a truly magical time there. We were blessed with having the Base Camp to ourselves for well over 40 minutes. We used the time to unfurl a string of prayer flags made by our supporters and some of the women in the programmess from around the world with wishes for love, peace and compassion we had brought with us. With the crisp Himalayan wind cracking the flags and the sun shining down on us, you could feel the energy of the prayers being taken up to Chhomolungma, the Tibeten name for Everest which means Mother Goddes of The Earth and granting their wishes.As we were trekking back down to our lodge, one of the girls from our group received a call from a dear friend to say she had beat her cancer. Of course I said my own prayers for friends and family. I really do think the universe was listening to us that morning.

Above and beyond the innate amazingness of this trek, there was something extra magical about this group of women that spanned four generations and socio-demographic groups. I think it was because we were all drawn together by the philanthropic mission of the challenge and, that doing good karma spun its own magic in the universe.Despite being strangers to each other, our group of ten disparate women bonded together and as a team we all urged each other on and made it as a group to Base Camp. That in itself was a major accomplishment; Sue said that at least one person from every expedition normally doesn’t make it to Base Camp. 100% of our group making it is a rarity.

In the end, ten women who did not know each other (but know, and like each other very much now) all made it and thrived. No one got hurt, injured or sick. We all accomplished our goal. We had the most glorious weather for the entire trek – sunny, crisp skies and no fog despite being just at the tail end of the monsoon season. Flights to and from Lukla, the village where the trek begins were delayed for two days but we were completely unaffected. There were no hiccups, no problems. Everything was as it was meant to be.I wanted to do the trek for a myriad of motivations –  for the love of my daughter – to do something really worthwhile that’s worth telling her about. To step outside of my comfort zone – to reset my compass. Rather less inspirationally, to finally shift the extra baby weight I’ve been carrying around for over two years. And of course raise awareness (and money) of the amazing charity Women for Women International.

I succeeded in all those aspects, plus so much more.

Our trek leader Sue often says ‘you don’t know what you can do until you try’. It’s so true. There were many times when I doubted myself and ability to do this challenge. But I did do it. And that feeling of empowerment is something I’ll carry within me like a light that can never be extinguished. Within each of us lies such an incredible energy and power that daily life and routine dull over and we forget what we’re made of. You can do whatever it is you set your mind to.

Having done this challenge now, I realise how lucky I am to be able to freely embark on such an amazing journey to the Himalayas and make it an achievement to be proud of.

But not all women in the world can claim such privileges and these are exactly the same people Women for Women are attempting to serve. Take Pari Gul’s story for example.

Pari Gul is a 42-year-old Afghan woman, who after taking part in Women for Women’s first vocational training session in Afghanistan in 2002, took up stone polishing and as a result now heads a profitable, 500-employee stone cutting and polishing company in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Despite being threatened, harassed and accused of corrupting Afghan women by the local community, Pari Gul has persevered and been able to send her eight children, including three daughters, to university – a luxury she was deprived off. “Afghan women face so many problems in Afghanistan – beating, stoning, killing,” Pari Gul says. “Here we feel so lucky to be able to be a part of Women for Women, to learn skills, help our families, educate our children.”

You can read more incredible stories of empowerment here.

By supporting me today, you will invest in these courageous and underprivileged women who are eager and desperate to sustain their children and give them the chance of a brighter future.Thank you very much for your time and I hope from the depth of my heart that you can join me in making a difference in the world today. http://www.justgiving.com/Jessie-Allen

Namaste and much love. JessiePS. I was over ambitious in thinking that I’d be able to keep my blog up to date from the Himalayas. The hard physcial work and 6:30am starts often meant that rest was often the only thing on my mind. I did keep a daily diary though and will be updating it over the course of the next few weeks on here.

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