Elena Kvochko recently hiked more than 18,300 feet up Mount Everest as part of a charity challenge to raise awareness of displaced people and refugees. Here she recounts her journey and what inspired her to support RI’s work.
Throughout my career, my goal has always been to make the communities and the world more open, connected, and secure. As a technology executive, I work with amazing teams towards making this true for millions of customers, employees, and partners. While technology has indeed helped solve and alleviate many of today's challenges, every day we bear witness to inequalities, lack of hope and opportunities.
Being born or living in a country such as the United States is often compared to "winning a lottery". It is the land of opportunities. After having been to more than 70 countries and all 50 U.S. states, I find the U.S. to have the most open, welcoming, and inspiring people and culture I have seen. Anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has a chance at their dream. I was a lucky lottery winner thanks to the amazing people in my life.
I would like to help as many people as I can have a chance at their dreams and encourage others to do the same. For me, my challenge was to ascend to Mount Everest to the base camp and Khumbu Icefall. It wasn't something that I had ever done before and in general, I'm not a fan of heights or cold temperatures. But I hoped it would inspire my friends, raise awareness about refugees and displaced people, and promote the amazing work of Refugees International.
Recently, we witness rising social and economic challenges and many more are realizing that each of us has an important role to play. I think living in a safe place with hopes and opportunities shouldn’t be a privilege, but rather a human right.
Climbing a mountain is metaphorically similar to the struggle refugees and immigrants have to go through to get to the next destination and a place where they can rest and feel safe. We all have our mountains to climb, some are taller than the others. Similar to our daily life, it is all about the gear, the training, and the team. The road will never be what you think it will be like. You have to take it step-by step, without constantly looking up or down.
The first day of the expedition was spent in Kathmandu to adjust to the higher elevation – the altitude is over 100 times greater than my home in New York City. After an introduction to the Buddhist culture, the UN World Heritage Buddhist sites and temples, as well as to the local life in Nepal, we flew into Lukla. Lukla is known as one of scariest airports in the world, with a short runway in between mountains that ends with a brick wall. From Lukla, we headed further up toward Mt. Everest through local villages and monasteries. Nepal has more than 120 ethnic groups.
I started the trek going through local Buddhist sites, monasteries, multiple tea houses and on the way met many climbers attempting to conquer Everest. I was told by local sherpas that in order to conquer Everest, one has to believe in something greater than themselves, which I think aligns greatly with RI's mission.
These were my first views of Mount Everest at 12,729 feet elevation.
I was incredibly lucky with the weather, but it got very sunny and windy during the day, and 100+ SPF sunscreen did not help prevent sunburn. At night, it was very cold and there was no heat.
13,000 feet elevation was the highest point I had even been at!
Climbing to above 18,000 feet was on the edge of my current physical abilities, but it opened a new perspective. It makes one grateful for everything we have on earth.
I am truly grateful for everyone who supported me on this initiative. A special thank you to my team and colleagues for their encouragement.
And thanks to Refugees International for reminding us that we are part of a human family.
To donate to Elena's Everest fundraiser for Refugees International, please visit gofundme.com/hope-for-immigrants-and-refugees.
RI is extremely grateful for Elena's compassion and dedication to RI's mission and the plight of refugees worldwide.