On day nine of her 12-day trek in the Himalayas, after overcoming a violent stomach illness, dehydration and the mental confusion of oxygen deprivation, Jen Klaassens looked at the “steepest of the steepest” ascent to Kala Patthar Peak in Nepal and said, “Are you kidding me?”
Still, she made it to the 18,200-foot summit and learned a few lessons in the process. “I learned I had strength and perseverance I didn’t know I had,” says Klaassens, vice president of programs for The Wasie Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale.
One week after returning home, she was still processing the life-changing experience. Klaassens and 44 other women undertook The Freedom Climb, a ministry of Christian-based Operation Mobilization, to raise funds and awareness about women and children who are exploited, enslaved, oppressed and trafficked. The team also included fellow South Floridians Tina Yeager, of Deerfield Beach (director of Freedom Climb USA at Operation Mobilization); Jill Taylor, of Deerfield Beach and Debbie Dingle, of Boca Raton. The climb raised more than $190,000 for OM efforts to fight exploitation.
The women had trained since January in order to reach Mount Everest South Base Camp, but an intestinal illness that struck nearly all the climbers forced a change in plans. Still, 24 of the women climbed to Kala Patthar for the awe-inspiring view of Mount Everest.
Klaassens characterizes the mountain as symbolic on so many levels – it represented personal growth, sacrifice, but most of all, “fighting this fight of the disgusting filth of human trafficking.”
The day the women summited, 10 men in Kathmandu, Nepal, were arrested in a sting operation for trafficking. “That made it all come full circle,” Klaassens says. “It made all the blood, sweat and tears worth it.”
For more information or to donate, visit thefreedomclimb.net. For information on The Wasie Foundation, visit wasie.org.