KILIMANJARO CHALLENGE – SOFIA SARKAS

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The geographical titan that is Mount Kilimanjaro will soon be the backdrop for 17 members of the Kilimanjaro Challenge 9 expedition. This is the ninth edition of Dun George Grima‘s philanthropic collaboration with Keith Marshall. For the past 9 years, Marshall has been training volunteers to physically, emotionally and mentally prepare themselves for the mountainous ascent and back.

Every step made on Kilimanjaro’s terrain is all for a worthy cause. Every year, fundraising activities leading up to the climb have accumulated donations for Dun George’s projects in Africa. All of this comes together with the courage of those who take up the challenge, and there aren’t enough hats in the world to be taken off to them. We’ve caught up with Sofia Sarkas to see how it’s all going.

Who is Sofia Sarkas?

I’m 29 years old and I head the HR division of international operations for the Saint James Hospital Group. I love travelling and my aim is to travel around the world before I turn 50. Because of my hunger to know all about different cultures and nations, I also love reading. I think I have quite a multifaceted personality, because I love very contradictory things – from having an extreme social life to enjoying some ‘me’ time. I’m spiritual, a rebel and a workaholic. I believe that when you do something, you’ve got to do it well and with passion.

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What made you decide to take up the Kilimanjaro Challenge?

Charity! My hope is to one day run a school for orphans or those who can’t afford a proper education. As I was surfing the web for any charities or volunteer work in Malta, I came across Keith Marshall’s post about Kilimanjaro and the school. I decided to contact him and see if I could help in anyway. The thought of joining hadn’t even crossed my mind! I was thinking more of helping with fundraising.

I’m not nature’s best friend. I’m terrified of insects and I’ve never been camping in all my life, let alone climb a mountain for 8 days without any toilets! It sounded like a horror movie. I then got all the other life barriers that rush into your head when you decide to get out of your comfort zone. I thought of work, finances, and most importantly, my free time. But for anyone who knows Keith, he has a way with words. I grilled him on every detail… After my first group meeting, I just knew I couldn’t miss this opportunity.

It turned into more than just charity. It became a challenge to face my fears for a good cause. What better gift would I want for my 30th birthday which will be spent there in January?

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You’ve been training for the challenge since February. Could you tell us more about the process?

I was one of the last to join and so my training began in May. I had quite a lot of catching up to do, especially since the closest to fitness or sport I’ve ever had in my life were summer dips and jogging!

Our meetings bond us as a team, and they also become surprisingly addictive. I couldn’t believe the feeling I got from missing out on days because of outside responsibilities – I’d want to go out and walk for hours.

The toughest thing for me is my terrible fear of insects. For our training, we’ve had to go to areas that I’ve always avoided. I’ve had to adapt and deal with it. Since I had promised myself not to focus on it or discuss it, I don’t think the group has even realised how big of a phobia this is for me. I’ve managed to stay considerably calm.

My family and friends had laughed when I announced the challenge of living on a mountain and sleeping in a tent for 8 days. It made me even more determined to get rid of this fear, or at least eliminate it as much as possible. I think fear keeps good things from happening to us and to truly live life, we need to rid ourselves of them.

I even got stung by a bee for the first time! It wasn’t as bad as I had always imagined it would be. However, it doesn’t mean I’ll stop running when I see one. Baby steps, I guess!

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What dynamics as an individual do you bring to the group?

It’s very difficult to know what others feel I bring to the table. It isn’t about what I think, but more of what they perceive. However, if I had to choose, I think it’s the fact that I’m a very adaptable and flexible person. I can match with any type of personality, which makes it easy to get along with everybody. Perhaps my experience in HR and coaching team building has helped me understand how to be an active team player. I like supporting and helping any team I find myself in, so I believe and hope that I give my Kili comrades the feeling of knowing they can count on me.

If you had to take one prohibited item with you up Kili, what would it be?

I think there truly is nothing I wish to have with me. I love the feeling of freeing ourselves from our extremely materialistic life, and anything we’re used to having. We’re all used to luxury compared to those we’re trying to help, and so I wish to experience the feeling of missing things and appreciating them more.

What theme song would you like to have played as you trek up Kili?

I haven’t really thought of any particular songs, but the question has triggered R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly. It makes me laugh and I’ve no idea why!

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Get to know other volunteers, meet Leanne Bartolo.