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Climbing to reach new heights for a better world

On March 8th, Mallorytown resident, Joanne Systma, will take her dedication to female empowerment to astounding new heights, as she reaches the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, completing the 2011 Climb for Care, a demanding fundraising event aimed at pushing people out of their comfort zone, while raising awareness for the empowerment of women and girls in the fight against poverty. As a world renowned leader in emergency relief and international development work, Care, focuses many of its poverty-fighting efforts on empowering the most vulnerable, yet greatest agents of change, women and girls, and currently reaches 59 million people in 70 countries around the world. Funds raised from events such as the Climb, go to proactive programs such as, vocational training for Afghan women, Mothers Matter, Cambodia Literacy, Zimbabwe Community Garden, Women and Climate Change, and MALI “Good Health Concerns us all”, all of which, once are wrapped up, are turned over to communities and local governments to carry on.
A particular program that interested Systma is one that allows savings and loans that enable women in developing countries to start their own businesses.
“One woman got a $45 dollar loan to start up a scrap metal business,” explained Systma.
“Now, because she is making enough money, her daughter is able to go to school. It’s always important to me to see women being able to look after themselves. Give them the tools they need and let them go.”
Often though, Systma added, circumstances may hold women back.
“What happens is that if women are still walking for hours a day to find clean water, all of their time is consumed with simply surviving. In a family with boys and girls, the boys will stay in school while the girls are pulled out to perform labour, so 50 per cent of the population is denied opportunity just because of economics. In instances where the women are given the tools they need to support themselves, the first they do when they get a little bit of money coming in is get an education for their kids.”
To that end, it is only fitting that the date upon which Systma and her group will reach the 15,100 foot summit, is also known as International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future, it is also the global centenary year in IWD, something that Systma noted, is a powerful symbol for those struggling to overcome their own personal mountains.
“It may sound like kind of a cheesy metaphor but for me, it’s about making each step count and not only that, but seeing how far those steps can take you,” explained Systma, adding that before they begin their climb, the group will be given the opportunity to ‘see what they’re climbing for’, when they visit one of the organization’s charity projects.
“When I discovered Care, a few years ago, the marketing seemed tailored to me. All the things that they do and have done seemed perfectly in line with my own beliefs and hopes for women.  I’ve been sending cheques to them and have been totally confident that they were going to the right places but I had to jump when the opportunity to do the Climb, because you actually get to see the results of the funds that Care raises which makes the challenge more than worthwhile.”
To prepare for the climb, physically, the petite Systma, has been training for four months, gradually increasing the distances in which she hikes and walks. Unlike ‘Dream Mountains’ founder, Shawn Dawson, who will reach the summit for the second time later this spring, the 54 year-old mother of six has never faced this type of physical and mental challenge but feels ‘basically ready’.
“I’m definitely scared, but I’m pretty confident that my legs will get me there,” said Systma.
“The Climb may not be for everyone. For me, it was time for a new challenge. But what matters is that we do something, however big or small a contribution may sound, believe me, it counts.”
Globally, Systma continued, ‘everyone can do something’. 
“There is enough food and enough money out there to make a difference it just needs to be distributed more efficiently.”

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