Stakeholder in the 2019 Trek4Mandela initiative for this year gathered at O.R Tambo International Airport for the send-off of the team, above, who will start their climb on Sunday and summit on 18 July 2019. The team who have been training since January this year is joined by an international climber who is from Australia and will be assisted by some Tanzanian guides. 
 Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - Tears flowed and hugs were shared as friends and families sent off the 17-member team of the Trek4Mandela climbers, who start their monumental hike on Mount Kilimanjaro today.

The send-off was held yesterday morning at the OR Tambo International Airport’s viewing deck a few hours before the team boarded the SAA 186 flight to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania at 10am.

Trek4Mandela is an expedition run by Imbumba Foundation in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Caring4girls, with aims of raising funds to buy sanitary towels for underprivileged school girls.

KayaFM jock and Idols presenter Proverb, who has summited Kilimanjaro twice, was the MC for the event while pupils from Tembisa’s Winnie Mandela Secondary School entertained with music.

Unlike in the 2018 expedition, this year’s one is mostly dominated by novice climbers who seemed excited while others looked nervous of what awaits them in Tanzania.

While encouraging his troops, expedition leader and mountaineer Sibusiso Vilane said discipline and respect was important.

“Listen to the guides. That mountain doesn’t go around looking for people, people look for it. You have to humble yourself to it. Respect it.”

Paige Lindenberg, who summited in 2018, said although the journey to the peak would be tough the experience was life changing and worth the climbers’ while.

“You are going to encounter many moments of asking yourself ‘why am I putting my body through this. Why did I do this, why is it so cold?’

“I’ll tell you why. You have chosen to do something greater than anything you have ever done in your life. You have chosen to climb a mountain for those who can’t.

“You have chosen to show every girl and young woman that no mountain is too high. Here is the truth, it ain’t easy.

“You will go through literal blood, sweat and tears every single day of this adventure. You will challenge yourself physically, but emotionally more than anything. You will come back a changed person, a better person,” said Lindenberg, fighting back tears.

Imbumba CEO Richard Mabaso said the initiative was important in ensuring that girl children are protected and given the same opportunities as boys.

“When underprivileged girls can’t go to school because their families can’t afford to buy sanitary towels then every girl that falls through the cracks (school) will be our problem in the future,” said Mabaso.

“They will overburden social grants and you and me will have to pay more tax for their upkeep. Every step that you will take on that mountain, you will take it on behalf of a girl child.”

The group is to summit next Thursday before they return on Saturday. The next team, which has former public protector Thuli Madonsela, is expected to go to Mount Kilimanjaro in August.

Those wishing to participate in next year’s Trek4Mandela expedition can contact Nkateko Mabale on 066 214 2520 or email [email protected]

The Sunday Independent