Maya Makanjee is the Chief Officer of Corporate Affairs at Vodacom
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would have the privilege of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – and that it be for such a worthy cause, too. As a woman leader, I was instantly drawn to the cause, as it supports the dignity of young girls as they strive to gain an education, something that is very close to my heart.
I find it truly sad and totally unacceptable that many young South African girls miss about 50 days of school each year because of their menstrual cycle. Not only is their future at stake, but also their dignity and self-respect. So taking part in the Trek4Mandela initiative, especially as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, didn’t need a second thought.
As we all know, one of Nelson Mandela’s most repeated quotes is: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This talks to my personal philosophy, as I believe that education is a personal right of every person in our country, and that it will contribute to building an empowered nation, leading to economic success and positive social change.
Working with the Imbumba Foundation, our aim is to raise R40-million to support 270 000 girls with sanitary products for a year. We hope to remove the stigma and confusion that young girls face around their menstrual cycles, so that they feel safe talking about this very natural change that their bodies undergo.
So why trek up Kilimanjaro in July? When the Imbumba Foundation approached the Nelson Mandela Foundation to support the cause, the synergies were obvious. The Nelson Mandela Foundation felt it would be fitting to invite senior executives to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to support the cause and raise funds. As we know, many people donate their time to support social causes in July in celebration of Madiba’s legacy, so the timing for the summit day to coincide with Madiba’s birthday was fitting.
Thirty-seven executives began the climb on 14 July and aimed to summit on 18 July. The climbers came from diverse backgrounds but shared a common goal of supporting this very worthy cause, and we very quickly forged a bond as we got ready to venture into the unknown.
I can only explain the experience as one of the most humbling journeys of my life; it was a test of courage, tenacity, adaptability, respect and self-belief.
I learnt what it means to be out of my comfort zone and to venture into something completely new. What was more daunting was that I only decided two weeks before the climb to join the trek. So I had to very quickly put on my hiking boots and try to get myself to a reasonable level of fitness!
However, as I embarked on the journey, I realised that it was about being mentally and spiritually prepared, and I believe this is what helped me achieve my goal of summiting the highest mountain in Africa.
It was an exhilarating, exciting and breathtaking experience, and one that I feel blessed to have participated in. It touched me spiritually, emotionally and mentally in a way that words will never adequately describe, and is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.