Across the Valley of the Moon
View of the stone bridge as the trekkers arrived near the summit of the mountain, Jebel Burdah.
What would you do to raise funds for a cause? Climb a mountain? Trek across the desert? That’s what a group of multinational friends did.
By Melissa De Silva
Going on such a trek is no good for your beauty regimen,” says Christine Amour-Levar, spreading her palms face up. The pads of her fingers are calloused and ragged. Christine, a resident in Singapore who is of Filipino, French and Swiss descent, has just returned from a punishing 10- day trek across the mountainous region of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan, a valley cut into sandstone and granite, also known as the Valley of the Moon.
The reason why she and 11 other women, from the Singapore and international community, embarked on this expedition, was to raise funds for organisations promoting humanitarian causes. Their aim was to raise S$100,000 for three charitable organisations – Women for Women International, an organisation that supports women survivors of war and civil strife with resources for self-sufficiency; UN Women Singapore, toward their efforts to end human trafficking in Singapore and Asia; and AWARE (The Association of Women for Action and Research), toward their programmes to support victims of rape and sexual harassment. Amour-Levar is a co-founder of Women on a Mission, a non-profit organisation based in Singapore, set up in 2012, which aims to raise awareness and funds for humanitarian causes. How they do this is by organising an annual expedition – self-funded by each participant – to raise money for a cause they believe in. The group of adventure and naturelovers choose a location which is stunning and which pushes them to the extremes of their mental and physical limits. To prepare for the Jordan trek, the women trained for about three months in rock climbing.
Their expedition in November last year took them across the landscape associated with British officer and adventurer T E Lawrence, commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia, who crossed the terrain repeatedly between 1917-18. Their trek began in Amman, the capital of Jordan, through to Wadi Rum. The wadi (meaning ‘valley’ in Arabic) comprises mountains of granite and sandstone – some reaching heights of about 1,700 metres) with almost vertical slopes, looming above valleys filled with red sand. The team did six to seven hours of hard hiking each day under the sweltering heat. Their journey culminated in scaling the steep rock façade of the highest mountain in Jordan, Jebel Um Adaam, located near the border of Saudi Arabia.
“We decided to set up Women on a Mission because we wanted to be more involved with the local community. Our cause is women supporting other women,” says Valerie Boffy, one of the three founding partners. The French national, an adventurer and philanthropist who currently resides in Singapore, is a former gymnast and only the sixth French woman to have summited Mount Everest on 19 May 2012. It was upon her return from her successful Mount Everest summit bid that Boffy decided to put together an all-woman team to trek to Everest Base Camp. Her friend Amour-Levar – the women became friends through their children who go to school together – had been her ‘biggest supporter’ during her training and the climb.
“Every day, I would walk an hour and – a half just to get to a place with a network to read the messages from Christine and other friends on Facebook. It was like food; food for the soul. I needed that to give me the strength and courage to go on.”
Stopping for lunch near the Rakebat Canyon.
“Of course the fact that we are friends is always an advantage during such treks. When teammates know and trust each other well, they tend to support each other more during challenging situations.”
— Christine Amour-Levar, Co-founder of Women on a Mission
Boffy sensed that Amour-Levar was living a dream through her Everest climb so when she returned, she asked her if she wanted to go to Everest Base Camp and suggested they put a team of very close friends together to do this. The third and final founding partner came in the form of French photographer Karine Moge, and in the third quarter of 2012, Women on a Mission was born.
Says Amour-Levar, “Of course the fact that we are friends is always an advantage during such treks. When teammates know and trust each other well, they tend to support each other more during challenging situations.”
Among the team was Singaporean Michelle Martin, radio host of the WOW (Women of Worth) Club on 938LIVE. “A team member fell ill 10 days before departure and a space opened up. Michelle jumped at the chance,” says Valerie. Another Singaporean on the team was Emily Teng, founder of social enterprises Blessings in a Bag and OKRA.
As of December 2013, Women on a Mission has raised S$85,000 from their Jordan trek.
The sun breaking through the clouds after a very heavy rain shower.
“Every day [on my Everest expedition], I would walk an hour and a half just to get to a place with network to read the messages from Christine and other friends on Facebook. It was like food; food for the soul. I needed that to give me the strength and courage to go on.”
— Valerie Boffy, Co-founder of Women on a Mission
“After we completed Everest Base Camp as our first fund-raising challenge the previous year,” says Boffy, “we thought to do a completely different physical challenge, which is why rock climbing in Jordan came up. Maybe the next one will be rafting or canoeing; something that none of us know how to do on a higher level so we need to train.”
Says Amour-Levar, “Both Valerie and I were competitive athletes in our youth, and at the core of Women on a Mission’s culture is the real desire to push our physical and mental limits. We often joke that indeed, we are not ‘12 women on holiday holding hands’ when we embark on these expeditions, we truly mean to push our limits and go beyond the ordinary.”
Climbing towards Jebel Khasch, a high ridge stretching kilometres.
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