Childcare team conquer Kilimanjaro

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An intrepid team from Newport Pagnell-based, The Childbase Partnership, took on the world’s tallest free-standing mountain in Africa for charity – and won.

Battling snow, ice and oxygen deprivation, 10 of the 12 strong team reached the summit of Kilimanjaro – 5,895m high and three miles above the surrounding African plains – last week raising £14,000 for charity so far.

Twin sisters and team members Holly and Emma Willshire, practitioners at Woodlands Day Nursery in Downs Barn, Milton Keynes, celebrated their 26th birthday on route to the mountain and returned home to a heroes welcome on Sunday.

Back at her desk less than 24 hours after her return to Britain, Liz McLean, expedition leader and area manager at Childbase, a leading UK early years provider with 41 day nurseries and a school in the South of England, said:

“This was, without doubt, the toughest challenge of our lives but most definitely worth the effort and hardship. Everybody played their part in this success and I am immensely proud to be part of such a wonderful team,” she said.

The hardships included sleeping in wet clothes and sleeping bags; almost constant nausea during the final stages of the climb; frozen and chapped extremities and snowfall that made their backpacks even heavier.

“One team member shed a tear which froze on her cheek. It really was gruelling for the last four to five hours but the relief at the summit was indescribable and the views were absolutely stunning,” said Liz, who added she would rather run three marathons together than repeat the Kilimanjaro experience.

From the rainforest to the cloud forest; from lunar landscapes to ice fields, Kilimanjaro is seen as the ultimate challenge for most trekkers who have to be fit and determined enough to hike through four seasons in a week and battle altitude sickness for most of the way.

This was the lastest ‘Once in a Lifetime Experience’ offered to employees by Childbase, named Best Nursery Group of 2011 at the EducationInvestor Awards in November, in a bid to raise cash for the company-adopted charity, Ikamva Labantu, which supports the disadvantaged in South African townships.

Childbase employees, who make annual pilgrimages to South Africa to help the charity establish day nurseries and train practitioners, have committed to fund-raising for Ikamva Labantu for the next three years.

Twin sisters Holly and Emma Willshire say they drew strength from each other every step of the way. As Holly said:

“On the final leg Emma squeezed my hand and we promised each other we would make it. I felt privileged to be on the team and to have this opportunity but that extra support from my sister made it an amazing experience.”

Nursing blisters; sore muscles and an infected toe, Holly and Emma returned home to a special breakfast party complete with welcome banners and balloons organised by their mother. And back at the Nursery less than 24 hours later, the children greeted them excitedly.

“Before we left the children had made a papier-mache replica of Kilimanjaro which they are still playing with. They keep asking us if we are going back but this is a challenge you definitely do only once,” said Holly.

Louise Campbell, Childbase Senior HR Officer, said the support at home and the charity commitment spurred the team on at the end when they had to walk for over 24 hours without sleep.

“We walked in single file with sleet and snow in our faces and nobody wanted to talk. I don’t remember the final 45 minutes before we reached the summit. Despite our extensive physical training, nothing prepares you for the mental challenge,” said Louise, who suffered from constant nausea due to oxygen deprivation during the last three days.

The Kilimanjaro team also included: Christine Walters, Manager of Seabrook Day Nursery in Luton, Bedfordshire, and practitioners Donna Wallace of Highfield in Edgbaston, Birmingham; Emma Jestice, Meadow View in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire; Gemma Leotta Cedars in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire; Michelle Nokes, Cherry Trees, Cranfield, Bedfordshire; Sarah Hetherington, Westwood, Coventry; Hewi Davis, Beech Tree, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, and Mark Savage University Nursery, West Cambridge.

Donations can be made via the ‘Just Giving Website: