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'Grannies' Empowering Grannies! On the Banks and Summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Where does one begin to put in words an adventure of a life time and a life long dream that becomes a reality? My story begins as far back as I can remember. My dream was to go to Africa — but, for a reason, to help and to give back to Africa and her amazing people.

Kilimanjaro1As nurses we are all aware of HIV, AIDS, its related illness and the awful stigma that goes along with it. In Africa it is still pandemic, continuing to take its toll on her people, particularly the African Grandmothers, their children and grand children. A whole generation of parents have died from HIV/AIDS. So, many of these Grandmothers end up taking care of up to 15 grandchildren with very little or no help.

This is where my journey to Africa and my climb up Kilimanjaro begins. I have always loved the outdoors, been a bit of adventurer and always up for a challenge. Not once did I think that we would not reach the summit. As a community nurse, I have had the pleasure of going into people's homes to give nursing care and over the years I have meet some amazing people.  I am always in awe of what people live with and how they live.  These enduring spirits have given me so much! You can never underestimate the power of love or the human sprit — much like that of the African Grandmothers we set out to help empower!

My first encounter on this journey was when I met and became Michael's nurse a few years ago. In doing so, I met his wife, Gisele Lalonde Mansfeld. In 2006, Gisele was making plains to climb Kilimanjaro in 2007 — to bring awareness to the plight of the African Grandmothers. She was fund-raising for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and looking for people to join her on her quest. I had seen the Imax movie 'The Roof Top of Africa' and remember thinking, “I would like to climb Kilimanjaro some day!” But I felt it had to be for a reason and to give something back. I knew in my heart that this was it!

With the encouragement of Michael, my two children Sarah-Jane and James, friends and family, I took a deep breath and made my own commitment to join Gisele and four other women — Liza Badham, Barb and Janet Carriere, and Trudy Stephen. Together, we became know as the "Kiligrannies' as we traveled to Africa and actually climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro — all 19,340 feet of her — and helped out wherever we could with the fund-raising. [See: http://kiligrannies.com/gigi-climbs/].

So, my training began, much to the joy of my two Jack Russell Terriers, Charlie and Cappo. With two-hour hikes everyday — in hiking boots, 5lb ankle weights and a 15lb  backpack — I was ready to go. However, where I live, near sea-level in Ottawa, I could not not train for altitude. On the mountain, I was lucky and only got minimal mountain sickness, a headache with slight nausea. I was treated with gravol and dexamethasone — a strong steroid which helps to reduce the brain swelling, which, for me, was effective. My headache was due to the fact that my brain did indeed swell. This can be life-threatening. If a climber's headache does not improve from dexamethasome, the only other critical treatment is to be taken down off the mountain. Only 40% of climbers make it to the summit, but I was lucky. Simon and Charles our guides, were excellent, medically-trained and certified mountain guides. They took great care of us, with twice-a-day checks, from 'did we have a headache?' to 'had we had we had a bowel movement?' Oximeter tests were also done.

As the only nurse on the climb, I found it was secord nature for me to keep an eye on everyone else — from also asking health questions, 'do you have a fever? are you voiding enough? is this cough something to worry about?' — to concerns about their feet. (since I am also a foot care nurse).  I took care of everyone's feet except my own and lost two toe nails on the descent!  However, I am not medically-trained in acute mountain sickness, so I did not try to take the place of our guides. I also have had some experience in wilderness camping so none of the camping routines or lack of the comforts of home was much of a hardship for me.  I gave my five companions some tips — from rolling up your clothes and putting them in the bottom of you sleeping bag for the next morning to stop them from getting damp — to keeping your things away from the side of the tent.

Kilimanjaro2As a society, we have made some progress in the treatment, prevention and education in HIV AIDS, not only here in North America but also in Africa. However we have much work still left to do. As for our hiking team, so far, we have raised almost $80,000 for The Stephen Lewis Foundation in support of Africa's Grandmothers. Upon our return from Africa, we continued with this, on yet another adventure, getting together to create and publish a book, Kilimanjaro: A Purposeful Journey — “a story of six ordinary women making a difference in AIDS-striken Africa.”  Proceeds from the sale of this book help support The Stephen Lewis Foundation. Here you will find some really amazing pictures from our climb, so the book tells the story not only in words but also through pictures. From our website, we say to everyone, ”we want to inspire every one of you to make some, if not all, of your dreams come true. For those of you who have not dared to dream — now is a good time to start. Without dreams, we flounder. Life is too short and there’s too much that needs doing to waste any of it.”

There is not a day that goes by when I do not think of Kilimanjaro, she gave so much to me, she was so kind to us. I believe she knew why we were there and she opened her arms — leading us to her heart, to the summit. In the words of Sir Edmund Hilary, “it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” My hope now is to return to Africa, to either work and or volunteer. You can order our book ($24.95) through our  website www.kiligrannies.com or you can email us at kiligrannies@gmail.com.

Never give up on your dreams and what you believe in!  In the end, you will get there.

Contact Information:

mdg 3 logo

Tina Cuerrier, R.P.N  
CareFor Health & Community Health Services
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

21st Century Nightingales:
In Their Own Words

All of these stories were first published online during the 2010 International Year of the Nurse / Florence Nightingale Centennial. They were chosen to feature how nurses have become 21st Century Nightingales, in many settings and practice approaches. Around the world, they are achieving and advocating for the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These stories are reprinted here with permission from the original website at www.2010IYNurse.net. The MDG logos used were created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for everyone's use worldwide, to increase widespread understanding about the importance of these Goals for all of humanity.