An Extraordinary Gentleman.

By; Nadia. M. El Abdin.

Published in the November 2009 issue of (in)sight Mag.

With the earth’s population growing at an exponential rate and with billions of people living on the planet you would expect to find more than just a few good men.

Let’s face it the men of our grandparent’s and great grandparent’s generation are becoming few and far between. Men who are well educated, multilingual, interested as well as fascinated and curious about the world they live in, men who hold a steady job, who have more than just materialistic interests and like to help others because they can, are becoming rare to find. Every full moon or so, you might be lucky enough to meet the acquaintance of one, although they are becoming more extinct with each passing generation, they do still exist.

A little over a year a go I was introduced to a man like that but at the time, I had no idea, what a gem of a person he really was up until very recently.

I met Kheiry Sammakieh, at a school friends wedding. I found him to be quite charming, intellectual and funny but I had no idea that there was more to him than meets the eye. Kheiry an investment banker, was born, raised and educated in London to Lebanese parents. This extraordinary man along with his fellow team members goes out of his way and challenges himself to raise money for a fundraising group called Lebanon United with generous donations from corporate sponsors to help provide a better future for Lebanon. How does he do it? He climbs mountains.

 When did you first start climbing?

I’ve been climbing for three years. I first started climbing when I decided to do a charity climb up Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds & awareness for school children across Lebanon. This project in particular was to raise enough funds to improve
the hygiene and water facilities of 30 schools across the country, literally, almost covering the entire geography of Lebanon.

How do you train to climb a mountain like Kilimanjaro?
The best way to train for a mountain like Kilimanjaro is to do lots of trekking. Luckily, living in London, you are only a few hours away from Wales & Scotland which are the perfect training ground for this kind of
challenge. The first trek and climb I completed was Ben Nevis in Scotland, the highest point in the United Kingdom. I have been completely addicted to climbing since then.

 What was it about climbing that first appealed to you?

I suppose it is very symbolic in many ways. It is the perfect example of how if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything. You can clearly apply most if not all fundamentals in climbing to life. If you
work hard, you will be rewarded… but not always, very much aligned with life, there is always an element of luck involved. In mountaineering you can train your whole life for a climb, but if the weather’s not on your side, it’s all over. That’s what I love about it. It’s just like life.

Do you have to be in good physical shape to climb?

That’s a big question. It varies from mountain to mountain. Some demand a lot more fitness than others. It’s as much a mental as a physical challenge but generally, the better shape you are in the more you’ll be
able to enjoy the experience.

How hard was/is it to train?

Again, each mountain commands a different training program. You have to be determined. It is as hard as you make it for yourself, the fitter and more prepared you are the more you can enjoy the experience. Think about
it. If you aren’t fit, you are going to struggle to keep up the pace, struggling makes it unsafe for you and your rope team. So not only are you letting yourself down, but you are unnecessarily endangering the situation.

What goes through your mind when you are climbing?

I zone out. Living in a big city drives your brain crazy. You need to give it a rest every now and again otherwise the consequences can be dire. It’s the best holiday I could ever ask for. Everybody has their own
way of switching off, for me its climbing.

What feeling (if any) comes over you when your reach the top?

Preparing for a big climb takes months of hard work, staying positive and in some cases a lot of arduous planning. You train so hard mentally and physically, you visualize yourself achieving the goal. When it
actually happens, it feels like you have finally crossed the finish line something you’ve worked so hard at for months and in some cases an entire year. So you’ve got a whole index of emotions running wildly through your mind; relief, happiness, proudness and exhaustion. I try not
to cry but it always happens and I always regret it because my tears freeze from the cold and it’s very painful!

What goals have you set for your in regards to climbing?

To continue to raise funds and awareness for children’s charities working through climbing. There are a lot of under privileged children out there with very little cause for hope in their lives. I want them to
see that life is like climbing a huge mountain and that if you stay positive and set your mind to it you can achieve anything.

How did you get the idea to combine fund raising and climbing?

Since the shocking events of the war in Lebanon in 2006, I have been a very active fundraiser for local and International charities that work with Lebanon. I had been fundraising through sports tournaments, social
events, music concerts and even card tournaments! In the UK it’s very common to raise funds through physical challenges like marathons and triathlons. So, I thought why not? Only this time we went big! We were able to raise a lot more awareness through corporate sponsorship. So far we have been involved in raising $3.375 million USD.

What does the money go towards?

It has always gone towards children’s charities in Lebanon. Children are the future of the country. Our funds specifically impact the lives of children in school and members of loyal communities by improving health
and education standards. The infrastructure we have access to have a massive impact on the local community as it also creates much needed jobs. By improving standards, creating jobs and raising much needed the funded projects will provide a healthy platform off of which the
community’s future will be brighter.

What is your goal in regards to fund raising?

I want to grow my team because at the moment its very ad hoc. Whenever a climb or project comes up I get different volunteers for it. Id really like to see more individual teams climbing for Lebanon and I am always very excited about any other countries in the Middle East doing similar initiatives. I’m always ready to lend a hand in the name of charity especially when combining it with sporting events.

What other interests do you have other than climbing?

I love to travel and to write. Climbing has taken me to some very remote regions in the world and there is this infinite learning curve about people & cultures that I am totally passionate about. I love writing about these experiences as a medium of expressing myself.

What does your family think of your climbing expeditions?

Hahaha they hate that I climb! Bless them, they worry about the climbs but ultimately I think they are proud of what we are achieving.

How do you know Omar Samra?

I met Omar Samra through the incredibly small Arab climbing community. I initially met him at one of his Everest presentations- he is a real figure of inspiration for would-be climbers like myself and a very positive
person to speak to and watch present. We were actually one week apart on Mount Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus on the border with Georgia- sadly I didn’t get to climb with him on that occasion but we ended up doing an
ascent of Mt Toubkal in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco together. It was a fantastic climb and great to do it in unison. There is very little Arab unity as it is and we felt very proud to team up as Lebanon and Egypt as well as out good friend Nacer from Morocco and show the
world that we can work together.