by Aarifah Loonat
In 2017, Sehera Bisnath from Benoni, Gauteng, turned 16. A milestone in the life of a growing woman, one usually marked with a sweet sixteen birthday party. An equivalent to the Latin Quinceanera, a sweet sixteen marks a girl’s transition into womanhood and what better way to ease into this transition than with a party? Well, maybe summiting a mountain while simultaneously raising awareness for menstrual health.
For her sweet sixteen celebration, Sehera went a different route by summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in efforts to raise awareness for menstrual health and sanitary products for women in South Africa. Months of intense physical training and a very strict diet, coupled with the support of her family and friends, led to Sehera summiting Kilimanjaro on 24 July 2017. Along with the satisfaction of saying she summited the mountain, Sehera raised R1.6 million for Dignity Dreams, an organisation that aims to educate young women and girls from disadvantaged communities about menstrual health and sanitary wear. The funds raised were used to create and distribute 6,400 care bags for young women and girls in need.
Under the leadership of Richard Mabaso, Sehera became an ambassador for the Imbumba Foundation, a non-profit organisation that focuses on empowering the youth by investing in the education and development of girls in South Africa. At the time, Sehera’s summit was part of the Trek4Mandela campaign, giving her support from the Nelson Mandela Fund as well.
When asked why she spent her sweet sixteen the way she did, Sehera will gladly tell you that the perfect gift is one that you can share with others and is one that can make a difference. The biggest lesson she learnt from her journey is that the greatest climb starts after you reach the summit.
When Sehera arrived home from Kilimanjaro, she was flooded with interviews, appearances, lunches, and motivational speeches. AyandaMVP interviewed her on Lead SA Youth, and SABC featured her twice. Expresso interviewed Sehera in her school uniform. Her school was filled with pride, offering a R10 000 donation from Ashton International College towards Dignity Dreams. #Sweet16Summit became a trend. Sehera gave speech upon speech, allowing the rest of us to climb Kilimanjaro vicariously through her words. From here came her love for motivational speaking and empowering the youth of South Africa so that we, as a nation, can become the best version of ourselves.
Her interviews all have one thing in common, encouragement. Sehera discusses how, whether it be a metaphorical or literal mountain, understanding your mountain, knowing your strength, and breaking down the mountain is the first step to starting your summit. From there, you start climbing. Summiting Kilimanjaro wasn’t just physically straining, it was mentally challenging as well. Sehera talked about how her jacket lifted during the hike, and she started feeling a bit unwell. The only thing that kept her going was the mental determination to climb the mountain. And so she did. Her favourite lesson being that “there ain’t no mountain high enough”. She sang it when she said it, by the way.
Now, almost four years later, her passion for helping the youth through empowerment is still a priority. Although, now at 19, Sehera has become more focused on long-term methods of helping those she cares about. It’s important to mention that there’s only one thing Sehera could possibly love more than making a difference, and that’s animals.
As we climb into 2021, the next mountain she tackles is her first year of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria. Her goal is to pursue agriculture through an animal welfare centre and farm. The aim is to care for animals and provide youth with job opportunities. Not only does this empower the youth through the development of skills, but also contributes to one of South Africa’s largest industries which in turn feeds the nation.
To conclude our interview, I asked Sehera what she, as someone who enjoys motivational speaking, would say to the readers of Activate:
“A qualification doesn’t define you, a grade on a test doesn’t define you, what society thinks you are doesn’t define you. As the youth we need to stop collectively confining ourselves to a box, because we are capable of so much more. I’d like to encourage you to follow your true passion and your true purpose. Then money and everything else will fall into place. No matter what, we always end up exactly where we need to be”.