High school teacher Esther Massinga, 46, has dumped her profession of 23 years to pursue her passion for adventure.
The Rustenburg teacher, who is part of a team of South Africans who will attempt to summit Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness of the plight of schoolgirls who don't have access to sanitary towels, has already tendered her resignation.
She has been teaching Maths at Matetenene High School since she began her career and was head of department for Maths and science.
“It was not a difficult decision and I’ve been lucky to have the full support of my family, especially from my husband.
Massinga hopes to raise awareness of the plight of schoolgirls who don't have access to sanitary towels.
"I love adventure and nature. I’ve been hooked on hiking and running for many years now, and my activities, including travelling, have been taking me away from the classroom.
"Sometimes I’d use all my leave days in a short space of time. It was getting too much, but I will miss teaching,” she said.
The mother-of-three will be returning to Kilimanjaro for the third time this year after conquering it in 2017 and last year.
Also last year she took her biggest challenge by hiking to the base camp of Mount Everest, about 5380m above sea level. Despite this, she believes that Kilimanjaro, which stands at 5895m, was the toughest hike she has tackled.
Esther Massinga joined 36 other Trek4Mandela participants for a hike in the Drakensberg at the weekend in preparation for their daunting Mount Kilimanjaro challenge in July.
“Everest is very challenging but Kilimanjaro is harsh on the body and one needs to be mentally strong to climb it.
"Certain sections will make you ask yourself why you decided to embark on such a mission.
"The first time I went was after the death of Gugu Zulu (in 2016), and at that time there were lots of myths, such as Kilimanjaro needs to ‘eat’ someone at least once a year. It was scary but also exciting,” she said.
Massinga at the weekend joined 36 other Trek4Mandela participants at the Drakensberg mountains, where they were preparing for the challenge in July, which coincides with the birth month of Nelson Mandela.
In August, another group will go with former public protector Thuli Madonsela on Women’s Day.
Massinga took the 26km Drakensberg hike in her stride, hardly sitting down when others took breaks to catch their breath.
“This is nothing. I run 10km every day from 4.30am and then go to the gym from 5.30am until 6.30am. On Saturdays I take part in marathons and only rest on Sundays,” she said.
She also aims to run 60km over two days on Mount Everest next month, and this will be preceded by further training in Switzerland.
Ironically, it was her weight insecurities more than a decade ago that pushed her to the world of health and fitness.
“After I gave birth to my last-born child (now 12) I realised that I was the biggest loser, weighing 96kg.
"I ate full meals like pap and tripe for breakfast. I became worried about health risks. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and realised that I had to do something. I started reading health magazines, bought gym equipment and joined a hiking club,” said Massinga.
Since then she has done numerous hikes in Namibia, Eswatini and Mozambique, as well as marathons, which has resulted in her current weight being 76kg.
Richard Mabaso, chief executive of the Imbumba Foundation, the Trek4Mandela organisers, said Massinga was one of the biggest contributors to the campaign.
“In 2017 she made a commitment that she will complete five Kilimanjaro summits by 2020 for a girl child before she stops. She has made great strides in spreading the word about challenges facing girls in her province (North West),” Mabaso said.
“We are truly grateful to every single South African who has stepped up to the task because we know that fundraising can be daunting, but with corporates who have stepped up it has been a bit easy.
"We continue to look for partnerships where companies know that adopting schools will help them in achieving their CSI objectives.”
* Independent Media and the Dis-Chem Foundation have partnered with Trek4Mandela for the fourth year running, and Sifile will be joining the team that will summit on Mandela’s birthday.