In the fight against Human Trafficking, there are some real heroes and heroines in the fight. As a young girl in Iran after the Islamic Revolution, Sara Safari experienced firsthand the oppressive, restrictive environment that enables the sex-trafficking trade to thrive. Late on in life she became a neophyte climber who had given up her new hobby when she found the challenges and physical rigors too difficult. She wondered why anyone would subject themselves to such danger and discomfort, just to be able to say they stood on top of the world. She needed an incentive far greater than mere personal achievement and eventually she found that motivation in the plight of the girls in Nepal. What she discovered is that their best defense against becoming trafficking victims was to simply go to school at a cost of US $175 per year. So Sara took on climbing mountains in earnest to raise money for Nepali Girls with the final goal to climb Mount Everest and plant the flag of her charitable organization.
In April of 2015 this 5’4,” 125 pound woman felt strong and ready for the arduous climb after having spent more than two years training and preparing for the adventure. At 20,000 feet, Sarah was climbing the last few meters of the infamous Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous part of the ascent, when a devastating earthquake rocked the country. At this point in the climb Sara was on a 40 foot ice wall. The wall began to rock back and forth, back and forth while she hung on for dear life. Then huge pieces of ice the size of cars began to break off the mountain and began crashing around her. The noise was deafening. At this point Sara was convinced she was going to die and two thoughts went through her head. One was that she was very sad for her husband, her family and all those she would leave behind. The other was that hers had been a life worth living, a life that made a difference.
Sara miraculously survived the earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people, leaving more than 100,000 children without homes, and completely destroying the Base Camp. Unlike most of the climbers who attempt Everest for personal glory, this woman was risking her life in order to bring greater attention to the thousands of girls in Nepal who are trafficked into sex slavery or forced into early marriage. While grateful to have survived the earthquake, Sara was miffed that after so many hard years of training, she had not made her goal to reach the top of Everest and the media interest she felt that would have brought to her cause. However, God has a better plan for Sara. The fact that she had survived the earthquake brought even more attention to her cause than if she had reached the top of Everest and empowered her to raise even more money than she had originally planned.
Sara Safari continues to be an advocate for social justice around the world. She fights for women’s rights and has received the Global Citizenship Award for her outstanding work with Empower Nepali Girls.
1. Tell us a bit about your background. When did you become passionate about climbing?
I was born in Iran and moved to USA 13 years ago. I studied electrical engineering in UCLA and now I’m teaching in different colleges. Couple of years ago after participating in a workshop I decided to do something so beyond myself that I can’t even imagine doing it. I decided to climb Everest. I didn’t have any experience in climbing or even camping but I have always loved nature.
2. How did your involvement with Empower Nepali Girls begin? Why is this important to you?
When I started teaching in cal state Fullerton, I met Dr. Jeffery Kottler the founder of empower Nepali girls and he told me about the organization. I was so moved and touched by hearing stories about the Nepali girls lives and them being forced to early marriage and sex slavery that I wanted to dedicate my climbs to them and raise awareness for their situation. I realized it gives more meaning to my climb and inspires me to do more since it’s not for me anymore and girl’s lives depend on it.
3. When did you decide you would attempt Everest? Describe the training you’ve undergone since then to prepare. How long was the climb expected to take?
I was climbing Everest this spring 2015. I’ve been training for two years. climbing different mountains all around the globe to get ready for everest. I’ve been doing bootcamp circuit training, yoga, rock climbing, running 5-10k and hiking local peaks with heavy back pack. The highest I’ve ever been is Cho-Oyu the sixth highest peak in the world 27,000ft.
I climbed mountains in Ecuador, Argentina, California, Washington and Himalayas.
4. Please tell us about your Everest climb. Where were you during the earthquake?
We started the climb on April 3rd and reached the basecamp on 13th after 10 days of trekking and acclimatization hikes to prepare our bodies to be at 17000ft. The next important step of the mission is practicing our ice climbing skills and ladder crossing to go through the famous Khumbu icefall which is hours and hours of unstable ice and glaciers on top of each other hanging in different angels and crossing ladders over deep crevasses. April 25th is the day we decided to go to camp one 19000ft and the day a 7.9 earthquake hits Nepal. After 6 hours of climbing through treacherous icefall and crossing many wobbly, long ladders, we were climbing a 30 feet ice wall with 5 ladders installed on it. As soon as I finished the fifth ladder I felt the whole wall moving left and right and as I was trying to figure out what is this, a big chunk of ice, a size of a three story building broke down and fell. The noise it made was like a plane taking off next to my ear. I lost visibility and I couldn’t see anything. I climbed the three feet up to the flat area and clipped myself to the anchor, thinking everything I’m doing is pointless if this ice decides to break down. Snow and ice debris from glaciers up top started to rolling down towards us, at that point I thought this is the beginning of the avalanche, I kicked my crampons to the ice to fix my feet and wrapped the rope around my hands, covered my mouth and nose so snow doesn’t go up my nostrils and choke me. Even though my heart rate was really high, I was trying to keep some oxygen in, in case I get buried under the snow. After 3 minutes everything stopped, there was no shaking and there was no snow rushing towards us. I could hear our guides yelling if everyone is ok. I unclipped myself and ran towards another climber and started sobbing. After the rest of the group climbed up, we had to continue to the next camp since all the ladders were moved, we had to fix them as we were climbing up. As soon as we reached up we heard about the devastating news in the capital and the basecamp and all the people who perished in the earthquake and avalanches. For two days we had to stay up there in many aftershocks and avalanches until the helicopter came to rescue us to the base camp. When we arrived in the base camp, there were dead bodies, crashed tents and gears all over the mountain. I couldn’t believe it!
5. Some people might not understand you or ask why you are doing what you do. Do you get this question a lot?
All these trainings were really the best life lessons I’ve ever got from mountains. I learned how to be motivated and energetic when I wake up in the middle of the night in high altitude, -20 degree temperature with a head ache and sore throat and I have to get ready and eat in 15 minutes to go to the next camp. I learned how to take the next step when I’m so tired, cold and my muscles are burning because of lack of oxygen. I learned how to create happiness and motivation in me to be able to continue to the next step even if I didn’t feel like it or I thought it’s not possible. I learned how to force myself eating the same food, sometimes tasteless over and over again to keep myself strong. I learned to be comfortable not taking showers for days and be ok with smelling bad. I learned there is no limit. Everybody is capable of anything and everything. There were days that I thought I’m done with this and I can’t do it anymore but I never gave up because I still had a little bit more to give.
6. How much money have you raised; how much do you plan to donate to the organization; and if people are interested in supporting the cause, what’s the best way to do so?
My promise was to raise a dollar for every foot of the climb. I have raised 29,000$ and I am donating all of it to ENG. The cost for each girl to go to school one whole year is $170. The best way to donate to ENG is our website. www.empowernepaligirls.org or www.sarasafari.com you can visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/empoweringallgirls if you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 949-438-0602
7. What are your future plans? Are you going to climb Everest again?
I don’t know yet if I’m going back next year to summit Everest but I’m going back this April to visit the girls and help them recover from the earthquake. I’m going to south of Turkey to visit Syrian refugee families and help Syrian kids. In the future I’m planning to climb the highest peaks in Middle East and Africa to raise funds and awareness for female genital mutilation that sadly still happens in many countries.