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Climbing to new heights

Malti Devi hikes up Mount Tolmie as she prepares to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this summer. Once atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Devi,  plans to put on a pair of high heels to mark her accomplishment. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Malti Devi hikes up Mount Tolmie as she prepares to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this summer. Once atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Devi, plans to put on a pair of high heels to mark her accomplishment.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

For most people, the prospect of climbing one of the world’s tallest mountains might seem more than a little intimidating.

Months of training, travelling halfway around the world, dealing with altitude sickness, health risks and unreliable weather are challenges and luxuries few can afford and even fewer crave.

But Malti Devi isn’t your average woman.

“I want to find out what I’m capable of,” says Devi, her eyes widening with intention.

In August, Devi, 37, plans to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, not only to test her endurance, but to raise funds for Children of Haiti, a City of Langford charity that has already raised more than $250,000 to build and operate an orphanage near Port-au-Prince after the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010.

But it’s her personal climb from the dusty farming fields of the South Pacific that make Devi’s story so inspiring.

She grew up as the youngest of four daughters on a sugarcane farm on the outskirts of Tavarau, Fiji.

“I was one of those little kids that stood on the side of the road, selling vegetables in bare feet in the gravel,” she recalls, once a sponsor child herself.

“Remembering those days, coming home, being hungry, you never outlive that,” she says. “And I don’t want to outlive it, because that’s what has kept me grounded.”

At 21, her family sent her to live with relatives in Chilliwack, hoping for better opportunities. She arrived with $65 in her pocket, and admits her naiveté would have been her undoing, were it not for several serendipitous people she met along the way.

“Academically, I was smart, but I was not street smart,” she says.

She learnt English working in a fast food restaurant and by doing accounting work at a local agriculture company, but knew she was destined for greater things.

“(My first employers) took a shot in the dark, they didn’t know me or owe me anything, but they helped me. I want to do that for somebody else.”

To simplify the petite, 5-foot-2 entrepreneur’s accomplishments in the 16 years since coming to Canada would be a disservice.

Her formal training is in graphic design, a venture that brought her to Victoria in 2000 to attend the Pacific Academy of Design.

But in an average whirlwind week the Fijian native also does photography, marketing for a biofuel company and still manages to fit in several hours of daily training for her climb.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing peak at 5,898 metres and second in elevation only to Mt. Everest.

Tanzanian officials don’t permit climbers to make the trek in less than five days, and despite its reputation as the least punishing of the global seven summits, Devi cautions the task is no casual jaunt.

A veteran of regional peaks, she has a habit of bringing a pair of high heels on each climb. She straps them on at the summit, “like a race car changing its tires,” and captures proof of her feat.

Kilimanjaro will be no exception, says the self-professed tomboy.

“In Fiji, the ultimate goal is to be a housewife – to cook, clean and sew,” she says, her confidence belying her humble roots.

“I want to be that, and be a businesswoman and a humanitarian all at the same time.”

Judging from her list of accomplishments, it seems she’s already well on her way to conquering those mountains.

To donate to Children for Haiti or sponsor Devi on her climb, visit malti.ca.

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