By Fiona Irvine-Goulet
In climbing the highest mountain in both Western and Southern hemispheres, Achraf Gueroun takes giving back to new heights.
When we spoke to Achraf Gueroun, he was just days away from climbing Mount Aconcagua in the Andes mountain range of Argentina. At 6,962 metres, it’s the highest peak in both Western and Southern hemispheres. It’s also referred to as “the mountain of death.”
But that moniker doesn’t faze Achraf, 39, who hoped to ascend the mountain sometime in late January. He’s dedicated ti reaching his goal in an effort to raise funds and awareness of UNHCR’s work to help refugees.
A business development manager in Montreal’s finance industry, and an experienced athlete, Achraf fully understands the risks – altitude sickness, hypothermia, and the Viento Blanco (the mountain’s notorious high-speed white winds) – but knows that a balanced attitude is critical to his success.
“You focus on pushing yourself, but also on the journey,” says Achraf. “Your body may not allow you. The mountain may not allow you. It’s a privilege to do this.”
“Privileged” is a term that Achraf uses to his life. Born in Morocco, he immigrated with his family to Canada when he was very young. This experience colours his life, and he says he’s lucky to be where he is now, a fact he impresses upon his eight-year-old daughter.
That’s one of the reasons he’s dedicated his climb to UNHCR. He explains to his daughter, whom he often goes hiking with, that there are millions of people in the world who have no homes at all and who struggle to survive every day.
When asked why he chose UNHCR as his philanthropic beneficiary, he knowledgeably cites the fact that over 68 million people in the world are displaced due to violence, conflict and persecution.
“I did my research [on choosing an organization],” Achraf explains. “I wanted to five back in some way and it was important to me that UNHCR has no political or religious affiliations and works in many countries.”
When we spoke, Achraf had raised almost $4,000 through his UNHCR fundraising page, all by approaching friends, family and colleagues. He hopes to reach his goal of $8,000 but says it’s not all about the money.
“I feel that this is my way of making a difference and raising awareness of the crisis facing refugees. We can all give time, energy and even being a role model for our kids,” Achraf believe, “I think it’s important for us to recognize that a lot of people don’t have the same privileges as us, let alone a roof over their heads or the right to safety.”
Despite several setbacks, Achraf completed the climb on January 18th, telling us in an email, “All the hard work finally paid off. Just killed it. Mental toughness. Focus. Hiking for a cause. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. Made it up in record time…”
Four hours into the hike, the group’s guide had to drop out due to illness. Then Achraf was forced to finish the last part of the climb alone because of problems with his crampons, the devices used to give boots more traction.
He says, “Alone and tired, I start my ascent. Six hours alone on this mountain. Every breath was difficult. I’m now two hours away from the summit and I have nothing left. I read the small motivation cards my daughter made for me. I can barely stand, empty. I finally make it.”
Congratulations to Achraf for an amazing accomplishment and his remarkable support of UNHCR Canada.