There were times while she was climbing Africa’s highest mountain that she felt like giving up.
But Andiswa Siwela was determined to make it to the top – not just to because it’s an incredible achievement but also to help raise funds so the children of Qakazana Middle School in the Eastern Cape could at last be provided with proper toilets.
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Here the 38-year-old who works in the Cape Town film industry shares her amazing tale of endurance.
“When I decided I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, I messaged Sibusiso Vilani, the great South African mountaineer who conquered Everest, on Facebook and asked for advice, which he was happy to provide.
He suggested that I pick a good cause to climb for as this would keep me motivated. And I immediately knew which one it was going to be.
In 2006 I’d visited Qakazana Middle School in Dutywa in the Eastern Cape and was disappointed to see that not much had changed since I’d been a learner there from Grades R to 1.
I noticed that the kids still needed to use pit toilets to relieve themselves and that the school was in desperate need of fencing. So when it came to picking a good cause to climb for, the school was an obvious choice.
I’d started hiking in 2010 and had climbed about 40 peaks in the Drakensberg, Cederberg and other ranges.
For Kilimanjaro, I started training last year by timing myself whenever I climbed a mountain, and working to control my breathing.
On 28 August I began the most ambitious climb of my life in Tanzania in the company of two other women from Johannesburg who I’d met through the Kilimanjaro Climbing Agency, which had helped plan the expedition, providing each of us with our own guide for the six-day trek.
The first two days were amazing. But on day three I started feeling really sick. I think it was the temperature – it was warm during the day but from 4pm it became cold.
I was vomiting and my legs felt weak. We decided it was best if I descend 90m so I could spend the night recovering back at Horombo Camp.
I remember sitting there and reminding myself why I was doing this. I thought about the change I wanted to make for the school kids. I wanted them to have toilets and a fence.
I told myself I could do it and the reason I felt so sick was because it’s not easy. I also thought about Gugu Zulu [the rally driver who died while attempting to climb Kilimanjaro in 2016].
Deep down I knew I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was and asked God to help me.
I then began the climb back up and as I did so it began to snow. It felt like a blessing – the snow was so beautiful and the cooler weather was such a relief.
After rejoining the group on the fourth day, I felt so much stronger.
We started our journey to the summit at midnight and reached the top by 10am. I had so much energy. Each and every step I took was so beautiful. I told myself I was going to get to Uhuru [the mountain’s highest peak].
And when I did, I felt so much joy. On my way there I got to watch a beautiful sunrise as I enjoyed a snack with my guide.
As I looked out at the breathtaking view from the top, it all felt worth it.
In total I raised R15 000 from the climb. There’s still another R135 000 that’s needed and I’m so grateful that my boss has agreed to donate some more money to help me get closer to my target.
I hope my climb will inspire others to follow their dreams.
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If you want to do something then just get up and do it. If you fail then that’s okay because at least you tried. But even then, try again.
That’s why I backtracked so I could gather my strength. I wasn’t giving up. I knew I could conquer the mountain – and I did.”