Gold Coast teenager Brett Grabbe-Clare-Nazer is celebrating this Christmas having already given much of himself to pay tribute to a special friend and better the lives of some of the poorest children in the world. Journalist ROBIN WILLIAMS spoke with him about the quest that led to him scaling Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
TO Brett Grabbe-Clare-Nazer, Dr June Canavan was an inspiration and a support, and when the 16-year-old Nudgee College boarder heard of her death his first thought was that her legacy had to be completed.
Dr Canavan was killed in a plane crash on August 11 in Papua New Guinea where she had intended to walk the Kokoda trail as part of a campaign to raise funds for the School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania.
The school was established by Australian Catholic Gemma Sisia (nee Rice) in 2002 and provides an education for the poorest of East Africa’s children.
Dr Canavan, of the Sunshine Coast, intended to raise money for the school by climbing five mountains, and launched her Klocking up the K’s project by climbing Kiel Mountain, in Queensland.
She planned to donate one dollar for every foot she travelled, with Australia’s Mt Kosciusko being her second trip followed by Kinabalu in Malaysia.
The Kokoda Track in PNG was mountain number-four to build up her endurance for the big one, Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
The five mountains added up to a total distance of molre than 47,500 feet (14,478m) and Dr Canavan hoped to present the School of St Jude with $50,000 to help it continue its work with the poor. Unfortunately she died on the way to Kokoda.
Brett met “Dr June”, as he called her, at Brisbane’s Chandler pool four years ago.
She was a doctor with Swimming Queensland and he said she approached him on the pool deck and introduced herself.
“She had a really good chat to me about my swimming and how at times I really struggle with my asthma, and she told me then that nothing was ever impossible to achieve and to keep up my swimming and deal with my asthma symptoms,” Brett said.
He said the doctor made a huge impact on his life and he was in awe of her.
“When Mum told me she had been killed in the plane crash in PNG, and even though I was very upset I told Mum ‘Dr June’s legacy can’t end here – we have to finish it off for her’.
“She dealt with people all her life and gave everything to everybody and I wanted to give something back, to do something for her.”
Brett said the opportunity came when several of Dr Canavan’s friends and family decided they would climb Mt Kilimanjaro in her memory and to complete her legacy.
The trip included a stay at the School of St Jude both before and after the climb, and Brett was able to see first hand the children who would be helped by Dr June’s Klocking up the K’s project.
Brett had grown up helping the poor in his local community, with mother Angie having been instrumental in establishing or assisting to establish and run various support programs for the disadvantaged in the Nerang area of the Gold Coast.
He’s always helped her out, and that background plus the first-hand experience at the School of St Jude has inspired him to want to return after completing his own schooling – “just to spend time there and help out wherever I can”.
“We took over a heap of stationery and books, pens and pencils, rulers, writing pads and things like that,” he said.
“These are the poorest of the poor but they are all so happy.
“There were about 100 kids there on trial and during the trial they test them (to see) if they will follow the school ethos … and during the trial someone goes out to their homes to (assess their family’s level of need) because they only take the really poor kids.”
Brett said he and his six fellow Klocking up the K’s climbers spent four days at the school before tackling the eight-day 19,135-feet (5832m) Mt Kilimanjaro ascent.
“We had to acclimatise that’s why it took so long, so we did about seven hours of walking a day and some days a lot more,” he said.
Brett said nights on the mountain were freezing.
“You would wake up and there was frost all over the ground and on the outside of your tent, and as we got higher it got colder. It rained on our first day for about half the day but as soon as you get to the second day it doesn’t rain any more – it just snows.
“Once you get above about 3800 metres it just snows.”
Brett said he used his regular swimming program as training for the climb and undertook additional walking before he left for Africa.
“I do six two-hour swimming sessions a week that can cover up to seven kilometres, but we only had to carry our day packs. We had 37 staff of porters, guides and three chefs just for our group of seven.
“They would go ahead and set up the camp and each night when we’d come in they’d do this Maasai dancing because apparently it lifts the spirits after a hard day’s work, and they did it for about 15 minutes – Maasai singing and dancing.”
Brett said that, on the final climb day, the group was woken before 4.30am.
“We started walking about 5am, then we walked for about seven-and-a-half hours.”
That took the group to within two hours or 150m (492 feet) of the summit, and that was as far as Brett was to go.
By then the 16-year-old was suffering from a severe case of altitude sickness and had to descend.
“I got to the second-highest stellar point which is about 150 metres below the peak and about two hours’ walking but I got bad altitude sickness.
“The others went on to the top and raised a banner in memory to Dr June.”
Brett was taken back to a ranger hut while the rest of the party continued on to the top of the mountain where they spent the night.
He recovered quickly at the lower altitude and got to experience something not included in the original planning.
“I stayed with some Maasai guys at a Maasai hut and we had a traditional dinner made up of ugali.
“That’s just flour and water and looks a bit like mashed potato, and they stick it on a big plate in the middle and you grab bits of it and dip it in a stew,” Brett said.
“You sit as a group because that’s how they do it traditionally.”
An auction a week after the climbers returned to Australia on November 22 topped off Dr Canavan’s original fundraising dream that substantially exceeded her $50,000 target.
Brett said the final total raised for the School of St Jude in Dr Canavan’s name was $130,000.
To put that total in perspective, $150 will fund a hot evening meal for 450 school boarders, $500 will provide the school with safe, clean drinking water for a week and $1000 will run the generator for a week, providing the school with all its power needs.
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