Humanitarian has high hopes for slum kids
Humanitarian Maria Conceicao takes the challenge to help slum children to the next level, reports Myra Philp.
Former Emirates air stewardess Maria Conceicao says her continuous mission to elevate children from slums is like “climbing mountains” - a phrase she is taking literally.
Conceicao’s charity helps hundreds children from the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh and Brazil, bringing some to Dubai to give them education and hope.
She is about to climb her latest mountain to fund her cause - Denali, in the heart of Alaska. Denali will be a challenge, with temperatures dipping to minus 4.4C.
Conceicao says the children she helps raise out of poverty give her motivation for every step of every climb she tackles.
She said: “I am going to be climbing Denali - that is a physically and mentally challenging endeavour. There’s no getting around it, climbing Denali is hard work.
“To break the cycle of poverty and despair one has to climb mountains every single day. My life mission is to do that both on the ground and to the highest peaks. Each time I raise desperately needed funds, it brings more lives out of poverty.”
Conceicao, currently in training at Denali Basecamp on the Kahiltna glacier, will have a heavy load to bear on her way up the 6,194m peak. She said: “I will be carrying a 18kg-27kg-plus backpack and pulling a 13.5kg-22.5kg sled on the lower glacier for up to eight hours a day. Higher up, I will need to be able to negotiate fairly steep terrain with a 22.5kg-plus backpack. People often call it the toughest days of their lives.”
Conceicao will ditch some of the load before the final ascent but not the photos that are dear to her heart.
She said: “I will be taking all the way to the summit two very, very special ladies who marked tremendously my life. One is my adoptive mother for everything she was. Her values, principles, ethics and generosity are part of my DNA.
“The other is Shewly Akter, who is 13 years old and one of the 600 children that have been under the umbrella of our humanitarian work for the past seven years.
“This girl is very special to me because, out of all the children, I feel she is the one that is my legacy.”
Last year Conceicao scaled Mount Elbrus in Russia to raise more funds.
She’s also reached the summit of Everest, trekked to the North Pole, run the RAK marathon and walked across all seven emirates to raise funds for her charities, The Wings of Dhaka and the Maria Christina Foundation.
Maria grew up in a remote Portuguese village and went on to work as cabin crew for Emirates Airline. It was during a 24-hour stopover in Dhaka in 2005 that she decided to make it her mission to offer slum dwellers a better future.
Her work has won her many accolades, including a European Union Woman’s Inventors and Innovators award and the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Most Inspiring Woman of 2012 prize.
She will be involved in the Denali expedition until May 19. Her progress can be followed on http://aaidispatches.blogspot.com