Listening to activist Sunitha Krishnan narrate tales of exploitatation of victims of human trafficking back in 2012, triggered a lot of pain and anger in Hyderabadi VJ Nagender. Two years down the line, the 31-year-old is is now gearing up to scale Mount Kilimanjaro in a bid to not only raise money, but also awareness on this social issue.
“After hearing Sunitha talk about children as young as four found with their intestines hanging out, something in me said, ‘This can not happen’. They are not just statistics, behind those numbers are stories of pain, abuse and turmoil,” says Nagender who’d met Sunitha and promised to donate some money.
“Everyone knows that prostitution exists, but I think what is missing is the human aspect to these stories. But donating money felt like the easiest and the laziest option to take for a cause that I feel so strongly about,” explains Nagender, who has absolutely no real experience in mountaineering, besides a five-hour trek he took in Scotland to scale a small peak and his childhood dream of “someday scaling all the seven summits” backing him.
So his current eight-day mission to scale Mount Kilimanjaro is a bit of a risky business. One of the seven summits, this dormant volcanic mountain in Tanzania is the highest mountain in Africa at 5,895 metres above sea level. The terrain and the climate of this peak changes every few meters. While it starts with a pleasant to hot rain forest kind of environment the temperatures dip close to minus 18 to minus 26. The risks are very real for Nagender, who admits, “I can die here. I could lose a finger or a toe to frost bite. And I have to think about my family that I care for back in Hyderabad. But I want people to understand that this is not something I am doing out of a whim, I feel that this kind of violence against women has to stop.”
A graduate of Wesley College in Secunderabad, Nagender is currently based in Dubai, working with a UK-based event management company. With his climb slated for August, he is currently training rigorously under a South African coach. “My day starts at 4 am now. I am on a 10-week training programme that will build my fitness, endurance, stamina and most importantly mental strength.”
Mental endurance is the most integral part of a mountaineers skill set. “While there is no real training I can do for acclimatisation, at high altitudes, it is all about facing yourself,” he concurs.
Nagender is in touch with Suzanne Al Houby, the first Arab woman to climb Mount Everest and as recently as January 2014, Suzanne led the first two Arab amputees up to the summit of Kilimanjaro, to help train mentally and understand what it takes to get to the peak. He again reiterates, “I need to succeed and come back. There is no way I can think there is an option to not finish this mission and return hail and hearty.”
Such is the grit of this man that his mission to raise money (a target of USD 10,000) is slowly gaining momentum. He is doing this largely on social media with a Facebook page and an insightful website packed with the stories and emphatic arguments on why you and I should care about doing something for this cause.
Of course, he has faced cynics who have asked him why he couldn’t just donate the money he is raising for his expedition. He replies: “It is not about the money. This mission is about raising awareness and triggering off a domino effect of getting people to act. For instance, my company has also promised to match the amount I have raised through its employees across the globe for the same cause. I know I might not be able to bring about a mass change instantaneously. But I do believe that it is high time, we all realise that we all owe something to society and we all started acting towards it.”