Standing on the summit of Chaupi Orco, at 6,044 meters, the highest mountain in Bolivia’s Apolobamba mountain range, Garda’s Director of Treasury Francois East turned his gaze to the North.
Roughly 4,300 miles away from Montreal, more than a thousand small children in the care of a Quebec social services agency needed his help and that of his fellow climbers.
For several years, Francois had been looking for a way to combine his thirst for adventure and desire to help others. When he learned of a group planning to climb Chaupi Orco to raise $125,000 in support of the Director of Youth Protection program, a subdivision of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse in Quebec, he realized it was the challenge he had been searching for.
The program is responsible for providing care for the youngest of children in need, from infancy to age five and provides services for approximately 1,250 children in Quebec.
Francois’ decision to lend his support to the fundraising campaign came as no surprise to his co-workers at Garda. The company vigorously supports community and social involvement and has supported major relief efforts in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, in Pakistan after worst monsoon season in that nation’s history left millions homeless. It encourages its people around the world to do likewise. From young polio victims in Iraq to those in need in Canada, Garda employees give generously of their time, energy and love.
For Francois’ mission, the trip was an arduous one, even before the group began climbing the mountain. Missed flights and lost luggage failed to dampen the morale of the group and, after arriving in La Paz, they began short hiking expeditions to acclimatize themselves to Bolivia’s high altitude.
After several days of hiking, on Tuesday, August 16, the group arrived at the base of the summit at 5,500 meters surrounded with exotic views of the mountains. The group enjoyed a dinner in their tents and retired early in preparation for their first climb on the glacier the following day.
The climb humbled the group members as they watched their native Bolivian guides scramble effortlessly up the face of the glazier carrying lots of luggage and dressed in simple everyday garb.
“We felt we were moving like turtles compared to them,” Francois recalled, noting that the guides wore none of the protective clothing the 13 Quebecers had to blunt the biting winds, chilling cold and scorching sun.
The climb for the summit began at 4 AM on Wednesday, August 17, and continued for ten hours until 10 of the 13 climbers reached the peak and stood in awe at their majestic surroundings. After savoring their accomplishment, the group started their descent back to high camp where they spent another night before the long, seven hour descent the next day.
“The hike down was more dangerous than the climb,” Francois said, pointing out that a fall on the slippery ice would result in a long and probably fatal drop.
The group exceeded their fund-raising goal, reaching a total of $144,711, which enabled them to make generous contributions to two Bolivian agencies that assist children in need in addition to the funds raised for the Quebec agency.
“We cannot erase the difficult experiences these children have endured,” Francois said. “But we can try and make sure these children, who are our children, can grow and be happy, enjoy good health and become productive members of society.”