Two ambitious Sunderland sisters have hit the heights for charity.
Anna and Fiona Forster, from Ryhope, have recently returned from Northern Tanzania, where they climbed the world’s highest free-standing mountain - Mount Kilimanjaro - to support a new HIV awareness and testing campaign run by child development charity Compassion.
Last month, the “summit sisters” joined a team of 20 climbers from across the UK to take on the challenge of a lifetime.
Charity co-ordinator Fiona, 28, said: “Taking up the challenge together has brought us even closer.
“When the climb got tough, we were able to support and encourage each other to keep going. We like to think we’re the ‘Brownlee’ sisters of the mountains.
“We prepared for the climb with regular gym sessions and hill climbing, but it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
“The Summit night was extreme, I’ve never experienced exhaustion like it,”
Anna, a 25-year-old physiotherapist, said: “Climbing Kilimanjaro has always been our dream adventure. So when we heard about the opportunity to climb for Compassion we couldn’t resist.
“Altitude sickness affected me very early on in the trek too, so I was already running low on energy.
“When we finally reached the summit I couldn’t believe it, it was incredible being able to share the achievement together. We couldn’t have done it without each other.”
Compassion’s latest enterprise will specialise in HIV prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
Due to lack of awareness, the Kilimanjaro region has one of the highest number of people living with HIV, with figures reaching 1.5 million, as well as 1.2 million children orphaned by the virus. In Tanzania, 68 per cent live in extreme poverty on less than £0.94 per day.
At 5,895m (19,341ft), Mount Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the world’s ‘Seven Summits’, and climbers face gruelling conditions as they battle challenging weather to reach the summit.
Fiona explained: “It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I’ve never experienced exhaustion like it.”
Anna added: “When we finally reached the summit I couldn’t believe it, It was incredible being able to share the achievement together.”
The climbers also visited a local Compassion project as part of the trip where Fiona got to meet 11-year-old Devota, the youngster she has been sponsoring for over five years.
“Meeting Devota was a moment I will never forget, her big smile reminded me of why we were doing this,” said Fiona.
And Anna added: “Completing the challenge was bittersweet – we were all glad to be finishing the trek but sad to say farewell to our fantastic support team.”
Fiona urged other would-be fund-raisers to follow in the pair’s footsteps: “For anyone considering a similar challenge I would say go for it - it will be hard work but so worth it.”