People go on adventures for many reasons, and mountain climbing – though more challenging than most other adventures out there – is no different. There's an iconic number of Arabs going for Everest this month, and yes, a lot is on the line for the each and every one of them. Yet, for some, conquering your inner fears and attempting the adventure of a lifetime is not the main motive, as good as that may be. Saudi national Mona Shahab has been climbing mountains for years, and like most climbers and adventurers, she discovered her passion for the outdoors at a very young age. "Ever since I was young, I always loved the outdoors," Mona Shahab says. She enjoyed being out so much that her punishment for misbehaving was not playing outside!Years down the line, she decided to take on Kilimanjaro as her first real challenge, but she wasn't going to do it just for the sake of the climb. A child clinical psychologist, Mona's interests were always between social development and adventure. She decided to merge her passions by dedicating every climb to raising awareness about a certain cause; for her first mountain expedition, she focused on the common interest of those she was climbing with. "We were a part of the Saudi Cancer Foundation, an NGO in the Eastern Province in Saudi that focuses on cancer treatment, and we decided to basically climb for them," she explains. Yet they didn't want to climb just for the sake of it – they wanted a specific goal in mind. "They were thinking about fundraising for the first early detection center for cancer in the Eastern Province, and we thought it was a beautiful idea," Mona says. "So, that was Kilimanjaro for cancer in 2012, and I caught the bug from there basically."After taking on the Tanzanian giant, the climbs just kept on coming. Sometimes it was to raise awareness about cancer and to raise funds for the cause, other times it was to shed the light on the refugee crisis and to give some Syrian children the chance to go to school. Yet, Everest – the toughest of them all and the mother of all mountains, as Mona puts it – was for a cause that was rather different that the other ones. "Most of my climbs were for causes outside Saudi Arabia, except for Elbrus for Cancer. I owe so much to my country, and we give back to the world, so why not give back to my own community?" Mona shares. Out of that calling, this climb turned out to be about "Everest for healthy lives or Everest for a healthy community." For that cause, Mona found plenty of support from the local community – so much that she was even sponsored by Gento, one of the biggest cleaning product companies in the region who will also be active on the ground in Saudi Arabia toward the same goals. "Everest for a healthy community is basically a call-out to every single individual who hears about not just Mona attempting Everest, but anyone doing it, especially the Arabs this year," she adds.The call-out aims to inspire people to be more fit and get healthier, for a better and healthier Saudi. "Diabetes is on the rise and obesity is on the rise back home in Saudi Arabia. We have to start with ourselves. If we don't take care of ourselves and our health, how can we focus on the community and the future and what not, and the upcoming generations?" Mona says. "It's a call-out to every single person living in Saudi to break those barriers and obstacles; Saudi is changing and where there's a will, there's a way. Let's get healthy, let's get physically active, because research has shown that women who are more physically active are less prone to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Together for a fitter, stronger, and a healthier Saudi!"While Mona's goals for the climb are to spread awareness in her home community and the betterment of other people's lives, there is a more personal reason as well. Mona's close friend and climbing partner, Marwa Fayed, passed away a few years ago before they were able to climb Aconcagua together in 2013. Mona made the attempt in 2014 in Marwa's memory but had to turn back before she got to the top. In 2017, she finally was able to accomplish the feat and dedicated the climb in the memory of her dear friend. This time, going after the highest peak in the world, she has a little bit of Marwa to accompany her along the way. "This climb is extra special because I'm carrying a very special axe that belonged to a very special person who left us too soon," Mona shares. "I have the privilege and honour of taking her axe with me on this expedition. Omar [Samra, Marwa's husband] asked me if I could, and who could say no to that honour?" Should Mona Shahab achieve the feat of climbing Everest, she'll be the second woman from Saudi Arabia to do so. Yet, she doesn't really care about being first or second – she wants to break the stereotypes surrounding Saudi women and the misconceptions about their stature in society. "There's this whole misconception about Saudi women being oppressed, and not being able to go out to follow their dreams and move the world. There's no difference; we're all human beings after all," Mona adds. "I just hope I shift perceptions and maybe even shatter stereotypes. I'm not the first and I will not be the last to attempt Everest, or to attempt my own Everest. Each and every person has his or her own Everest. We Saudi Arabians are just like any other nationality. We have to trust that we are no different. Let's prove to ourselves first and then to the world that we can, we will, and we're able, and we're not going to take no for an answer."
All photos courtesy of Mona Shahab