When Singaporean student Siyin Lim first decided to climb a 6,000 metre high mountain in the Himalayas, she did not imagine that her efforts would contribute to AIDS prevention efforts in central Africa.
A third-year Geography student at Oxford University, Siyin was already a seasoned mountain climber. At 6,153 metres, Stok Kangri, in northern India, was higher than anything she had ever climbed before. But she decided to add another challenge - to use her climb to raise money for a worthwhile cause. The question was: what exactly?
After much googling, Siyin realised that the answer was right in front of her. For nearly 20 years, the STRATEGIES FOR HOPE (SFH) Trust - a small, Oxford-based charity - had been producing information and training materials on AIDS and sending them to community-based organisations in developing countries - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2008, SFH had produced and distributed over 1 million copies of its materials. Siyin happened to know Glen and Alison Williams, who produce the SFH materials, through her father, Mong Seng, who had been a student with Glen in Australia in the 1960s. After discussing with Alison and Glen, Siyin decided that she would get herself sponsored to climb Stok Kangri, and the money she raised would be used to help distribute SFH’s training materials to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. She set herself a sponsorship target of £2,000.
While preparing for her final exams at Oxford, Siyin set about raising funds, creating a publicity website and rallying friends and family for sponsorship. Another family friend, Graham Geary, set about organising the trip logistics. Siyin’s parents in Singapore also contacted relatives and friends in Singapore to support her sponsored climb. “It wasn’t easy,” says her mother, Chey Ching. “We explained that Siyin wanted to raise money for AIDS prevention projects in Africa, but for people in Singapore that’s something quite remote. It took a while before they understood and felt willing to contribute.”
Exams completed, Siyin set off for India with Graham. After three weeks of acclimatisation and preparation, they were ready to tackle Stok Kangri. Unfortunately though, Graham had sustained a knee injury and was unable to attempt the summit, but he made the trek to base camp nonetheless. Leaving base camp at midnight, Siyin, her guide and his two companions trudged up the snowy slopes of the mountain for 8 hours before reaching the summit. By 2 p.m. they were welcomed by Graham back at base camp, where Siyin’s first thought was: “I’d like to climb that again!”
Meanwhile, the sponsorship money had started to trickle in. Some people gave two or three pounds, others gave much more. Siyin’s brother and sister-in-law in Boston, USA, raised £350 by holding a special fund-raising dinner. In the end, six months after the fundraising began, a total of 96 donors had contributed £3,200 - more than £1,000 above Siyin’s original target.
Note: to read Siyin’s own account of her expedition, please visit her website: http://qwrky.wordpress.com.
How the money is being spent
Some of the sponsorship money has been used to support a three-day training workshop on HIV and AIDS for 30 church leaders in the town of Goma, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was organised by a local group, UPROSA, which has been training local community leaders and school teachers in AIDS awareness for several years. The UPROSA workshop was a rare and precious opportunity for the participants to receive accurate factual information about HIV and AIDS, and to exchange ideas and experiences about what churches can do to respond more effectively to the challenges of the epidemic. During the workshop, where STRATEGIES FOR HOPE books and films were used, the participants recognised the need to discuss sex and AIDS much more openly within the church. Cultural issues, such as the traditional taboo on husbands and wives discussing sex, also needed to be addressed.
Several participants decided to be tested for HIV. Many decided to form groups to carry out AIDS prevention and support activities in their communities. At the end of the workshop, all the participants were presented with copies of STRATEGIES FOR HOPE books and films so they can carry out AIDS education and awareness within their churches and communities.
STRATEGIES FOR HOPE Trust used the rest of the sponsorship money raised by Siyin to provide other small, community-based organisations in sub-Saharan Africa with information and training materials that can help them address the challenges of the AIDS epidemic.