x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

UAE bankers trade balance sheets for backpacks in Kilimanjaro challenge

Fifty employees of Emirates NBD set out to climb Kilimanjaro in a bid to raise money for charity as the bank celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Employees of Emirates NBD train at Jumeirah open beach in Dubai for their charity trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. Pawan Singh / The National
Employees of Emirates NBD train at Jumeirah open beach in Dubai for their charity trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Do not expect to find banker Alia Falaknaz behind her desk this week - she is in Tanzania climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.

The 25-year-old Emirati investment adviser and 49 other Emirates NBD employees will spend six days on a charity trek up Africa's highest peak as part of the bank's 50th-anniversary celebrations.

She was among the first batch of 25 employees who left at the weekend, and the rest will set off this coming weekend.

"As a young, female Emirati I will be moving out of my comfort zone and challenging myself and others that, yes, we can do it: we can climb the world's highest free-standing mountain," she said. "It will definitely be an unforgettable way of celebration."

Organised by the charity Gulf For Good, The Kilimanjaro challenge will raise money for the Amani Children's home in Tanzania. After the hike, the participants will spend a day with the charity.

"Experiencing such a challenge for a good cause is what made me decide to go," said Ms Falaknaz.

Husam Al Sayed, the bank's Human Resources general manager, said the purpose of the trip was threefold.

"We want to plant 50 flags of the bank at the top, we want to be a part of the community of this world and give back by raising money for an amazing cause, and we want to take a group of people from diverse nationalities from different departments to create better team spirit and oneness among them," he said.

Preparation for the climb began months ago with employees undertaking "boot-camp" training to get in shape. This involved climbing 100 flights of stairs once a week, 15km beach hikes and walking up and down the slopes at SkiDubai.

The Kilimanjaro trek is one of the more extreme challenges organised by Gulf for Good, said Patricia Anderson, the charity's head of communications.

"You get to very high altitudes very quickly," she said. "Sometimes the fittest people can get tired.

"Challengers will be trekking for about six to eight hours a day, so a certain amount of fitness is very important. We say: 'Train hard, challenge easy'."

The high-intensity routine would help them face the worst challenges of the expedition, said Kamal Farouk, a relationship manager at the bank's Al Ittihad Centre branch.

"My training routine included a well-balanced diet," said the 32-year-old Emirati, who said he was looking forward to escaping city life for a while.

For Anthony Taylor, a South African expatriate, reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro has been a long-time personal goal. "It will be an amazing experience to be up there, realising the rest of that great continent is below you," he said.

Because the bank's Kilimanjaro team includes staff ranging from senior management to junior executives, Ms Anderson said it would be a great team-building exercise.

"Companies generally book a hotel and do archery for a day, which is good ... this is just 500 times better," she said. "And it isn't just for them, but thousands more will benefit from what they are doing.

"We hope the staff members maintain their relationship with Amani."

Amani hopes to use the funds raised by the bank employees to build a drop-in centre for street children, which they can visit for basic amenities and to play, study and receive clothes.

New Zealander Marcus Chalmers, a project manager at the bank, has never done anything like this before. "I want to know my limits and possibly find out my limits are greater than I thought," he said.

The initiative not only proves the company's dedication to social responsibility, he added, but would also have a positive and "possibly life-changing impact" on its staff.

Mr Chalmers was excited to start the adventure but aside from helping the charity, he joked that there was one thing he was looking forward to most: "Getting back alive."