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Royal LePage Nanaimo Realty treks Ecuador for domestic violence prevention

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Last November, 115 Royal LePage professionals from across Canada signed up for the company’s Challenge for Shelter trekking fundraiser, this time in Ecuador.

The biannual fundraiser supports local women’s shelters and national domestic violence prevention programs. The challenge involved five days of hiking the Andes Mountains and tent camping at high altitudes.

REM chatted with two participants, Jana Koster and Tina Lynch of Royal LePage Nanaimo Realty, about their experience.

 

Tell me about why you participated — what inspired you?

 

JK: I have always been a supporter of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation but during COVID, the need for support was so much greater. The result of people staying home from work and school due to the pandemic meant that women and children were confined to their homes with their abusers while stress levels were at an all-time high.

This was my second trek; my first was two years ago when we hiked the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia. When the Shelter Foundation announced that they were still going to do a trek in 2020 but it was going to have to be within Canada due to travel restrictions, I knew that it was my time to step up and take part.

TL: I love being in the mountains and out for an adventure, so that paired with doing something that benefited my community seemed like an automatic my-hand-is-up kind of moment for me.  

We were lucky to have been brought up in a loving and supportive family, but my dad had a different upbringing and I wish there had been more options for him and his family when they were young. So, I like working towards initiatives that open up the possibilities for women and families.

 

Any hesitations?

 

TL: The two hesitations I had were 1) how the heck was I going to fundraise and meet the minimum, as I live in a small community (5,000 residents) and there are so many worthy organizations that also need the funds, and 2) how was I going to manage being in a new setting knowing no one? As a person with anxiety, this may have intimidated me the most. I was literally so anxious that I was throwing up just before getting on the plane.

But, as soon as I arrived in Ecuador and messaged with “group 1” through WhatsApp, I felt such a relief — I was with great people who were focused on doing a positive thing to help bring change. There was nothing to worry about. It’s just the fear of the unknown.

 

Royal LePage Nanaimo Realty realtors raised nearly $29,000. What was this put towards? How did fundraising go for you?

 

JK: Royal LePage covers all administrative costs associated with the Foundation, so 100 per cent of the money raised goes to shelters and education. I raised $12,473.50 — 80 per cent of what we raise stays in our local community and is donated to our local shelter in Nanaimo, Haven Society, while the balance is used for national education initiatives.

TL: Additionally, there are a number of realtors that donate a portion of each commission they earn, though this isn’t calculated in the $1.7 million total raised from this trek.

My mom and sister, who had started our family real estate business on Gabriola Island, helped me knit toques as part of our fundraiser. I was amazed at how successful the fundraiser was; it was a nice way for them to contribute, too.

I also had a lot of support from local businesses that got a spot for their logos on my training gear. Many friends and family showed up to train, usually up the hills with weighted backpacks and sometimes as early as 4:30 am to ensure I got the training in before work.

 

Tell me about the trek.

 

“I realized that I could talk for hours about the experience and still not convey its meaning to me.”

– Jana Koster

 

JK: 115 realtors took part in this trek. We were split into four groups of approximately 30 people. The first group began on November 10, and the last started on the 16th. Each trek is difficult and challenging in its own way, and Ecuador’s challenge was the altitude.

For someone who lives at sea level and has never done high-altitude hiking before, I had no idea how challenging I would find this. We began our hike at about 3,000 metres high, summited Mt. Pasochoa at 4,200 metres on our second day and then spent the next three days between 3,300 and 3,600 metres.

Mt. Pasachoa was the hardest part of the hike for me. It was an 11-hour day of hiking in the sun, rain and even some hail. I had a hard time breathing, as it felt like I could never get my lungs full of air. Thankfully, other than some dizziness I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness.

The terrain for the rest of the trip was much easier, but I felt the cumulative effects of the altitude, lack of sleep, cold weather and rain, plus each day was harder than the last to keep going and keep our spirits up.

An interesting thing at that altitude was the extreme change in weather. We would wake up to 3-4 degree temperatures, with everything damp from overnight rain, and be hiking in the afternoon in 25-degree sunny skies, where our SPF 50 sunscreen could barely protect us. Then, around 3:00 pm the clouds would roll in and we would get rain (sometimes for an hour, sometimes all night). One night, it dropped below zero and we woke to a frozen camp.

Photo credit: Jana Koster

 

What did you get most out of the whole experience?

 

JK: Each day we would hear a story from someone touched by domestic violence. These stories came from our colleagues on the hike. To me, it highlighted the fact that we never know what someone has gone through or is going through in their lives and how domestic violence is closer than many of us know.

Thankfully, most of these stories had a positive ending, thanks to shelters, support and counselling, but the need is great! I was touched to be a part of this amazing trek.

Photo credit: Tina Lynch

 

TL: I thought about the women and families and what strength they need to face the unknown, whether they’re in an abusive situation or trying to leave one. As Jana said, the letters being read out were such an emotional experience, one that weighed heavy on your heart.

It’s easy to feel insignificant in your efforts and to wonder if you can make a difference, but you really can by showing up to a challenge.

I wasn’t sure if I could raise the $6,000 minimum we needed to fundraise to do the trek, but I almost doubled that amount, and when you look at us as a whole, $1.7 million is a significant amount that can create effective change. I also think it raises awareness and support for the women in abusive situations and the shelters that support them, so it’s a compounding effect.

 

“I am really proud to be part of a company that cares about people — they really do from the top, down.”

– Tina Lynch

 

Photo source: Tina Lynch and Jana Koster


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