Pretoria - Should you miss Pearl Shongwe’s sultry voice on Metro FM or her warm smile on Morning Live next month, fear not; she’ll be trekking her way up the highest mountain in Africa.
Yep, you guessed right; Shongwe will be hiking up 5895m Mount Kilimanjaro. She is among a group of hikers who will be taking part in this year’s expedition of the Trek4Mandela campaign next month, which aims to keep indigent girls in school and provide them with basic needs such as sanitary towels. Through the help of the organisers - Imbumba Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Caring4Girls - the group has been raising funds for sanitary towels ahead of their summit scheduled to coincide with Women’s Day.
Two groups of climbers are set to take part in this expedition. The first group, consisting of 17 people, will leave on July 18 (Mandela Day).
For Shongwe, who hosts the youth leadership show on SABC 1, One Day Leader, being part of a progressive course like Caring4Girls was right up her alley.
She also described signing up for Kilimanjaro as a calling more than anything. “I was programme directing last year’s expedition and the whole event resonated with my being and I just signed up,” she said.
Of course signing up was only the beginning of a long road of commitment coupled with training and a strict diet. “Since signing up I’ve been hiking relentlessly with friends and I also do a lot of Billy Blanks videos.”
Shongwe is also a regular at the Westcliff stairs. The 210 stairs snake, almost vertically, up a hillside, scything in-between some of northern Joburg hottest properties; and she is all too familiar with the stairs.
“They have really upped my fitness game, along with the two Drakensberg hikes, I feel more confident,” she said. “At Westcliff the last 20 steps take their toll on you. Having conquered 190 others, your legs, lungs and brain start playing games on you.”
As far as diet was concerned Shongwe consulted renowned adventurer Sibusiso Vilane, who told her not to be too fussy but make sure she kept it clean.
“I’m not strict on my diet, but I try to eat what is good for my body." She did admit to having ice cream now and then, but nothing she can’t burn off on the Westcliff stairs.
Shongwe’s work as a facilitator and programme director has seen her facilitate discussions around issues of women empowerment, youth leadership, the active participation of women in the South African economy and more.
She said periods were something women and girls have been having for thousands of years. “It is the reason you and I are even here. And yet around the world, there’s still an element of shame associated with a woman’s monthly cycle, and if it’s not shame, it’s access to sanitary pads.”
She said menstruation was associated with smells, mess, blood, gore, impurity and disgust, which is probably why many women said they feel uncomfortable talking about their periods.
She said for that to change, schools needs to be more open about the importance of menstruation and they need to be more sympathetic towards the stigma girls face. “For a start, schools should provide resources and information that girls can access.
"This will help them understand - rather than feel scared and fearful - what is happening to their bodies during puberty.”
She said this was one step towards taking the taboo out of menstruation, because to achieve gender equality on this issue, girls need to feel able to talk about their periods and challenge the discrimination that is associated with menstruation and developing bodies. And boys can play a big role in this - if they also get the right support and resources.
Last year, Shongwe lost her dad to stage 4 prostate cancer. She said she would be climbing Kilimanjaro in honour of her father.
“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him.” The 2019 expedition aims to raise enough funds to ensure that one million girl children will not miss a day of school.
To support Shongwe in raising funds you can SMS PEARLSHONGWE to 42513 and donate R30. Those wishing to participate in next year’s Trek4Mandela expedition can contact Nkateko Mabale on 0662142520 or email [email protected]