If you ask Monde Sitole why he plans to climb Everest again, this time without bottled oxygen, that’s the answer he’ll likely tell you. It’s also to raise funds to build an all girls primary school in Lady Frere in Eastern Cape. The goal is to raise R1 million, but more importantly the goal is to equip others from rural South African backgrounds to do what he has done.
His life of, literal, adventure began when he was selected among some of the first African youngsters to be schooled abroad the SV. Concordia as part of the Class Afloat programme. A few years later he was invited to join Mike Horn’s Young Explorers Programme in Switzerland, which piqued an interest in climbing.
Fast forward a couple of years and Sitole has now summited some of the tallest, most treacherous peaks in the world, spear-headed his Dare2Dream Expedition – which will see him climb each continent’s tallest mountain – and founded the Monde Sitole Foundation which is equipping young South Africans to drive forward an education model centered around innovation and ingenuity.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”– Sun Tzu
We caught up with Monde Sitole to discuss his journey against all odds to climb the tallest peaks in the world, his approach to equipping South African youth to do the same, and navigating the pandemic through it all.
Life In Balance: It’s been years since you began this journey. What was the turning point in your youth that set you on this mission?
Monde Sitole: All my life I’ve battled with a deep yearning and silent voice that has made my life a calling. I would say my actual turning point was when I met Antje Nahsen who introduced me to Cape Windjammers, where I was chosen to be among the first 10 young Africans to attend school onboard a tall ship. We sailed and serviced the ship ourselves, while attending school afloat. Everything we learned was experiencial and the pedagogy was based on opening our eyes and finding ways to adapt and innovate in the increasingly globalised world.
LIB: What was it like to be thrown into such a different, dynamic way of living and learning?
MS: We had times of culture clash and misconceptions but in a way this prepared me for the vast world I would be exposed to much later in my life and career.
LIB: And from there on out it was a life of adventure for you?
MS: After that I was selected to take part in the Mike Horn Young Explorers Camp in Switzerland, where I was further engrossed and challenged to make decisions about global warming, responsible exploring and activism. And it was after all this and more trips, mentorship, and my wanderlust lore that I decided to begin the Dare2Dream Expedition. I always say it is to reinvigorate that latent intrinsic potential in all to dare to dream, grab hold of their dreams – no matter how small, big, or absurd they might seemingly appear.
LIB: And the idea with Dare2Dream is essentially to climb the highest peaks on each continent, and ski both the North and South Pole. What have you achieved so far?
MS: My leg of my expedition was inspired by my mother who passed on in my arms due to COVID complications. She was, and continues to be, my major inspiration and guide.
I climbed Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mount Elbrus (Europe), and Denali (North America), and now I’m doing Mount Kosciuszko (Australia) and Vinson Massif (Antarctica) back to back. Then, at the end of the year I’m planning on doing Everest without oxygen. I’ve also climbed other peaks in the Himalayan mountains and the Andes.
LIB: That’s incredible – and you began your foundation to equip other young South Africans to do the same?
MS: Monde Sitole Foundation and Desert Rose Adventure Club came to life because I needed balance in my life, and believed mountains can mean more than summiting peaks and crevasses. I needed a way to reconcile how I grew up and my love for mountains.
I was tired of being an exception and really do believe that like mountains, townships can be a catalyst for change. So we use mountaineering, innovation and extreme sports to best mutate that reckless spirit onto something worthwhile.
LIB: And you use their often volatile backgrounds and upbringings as part of the training and upliftment programme?
MS: I approach it in the sense that if you’re good with stabbing, why not try fencing? The beauty is, I’m using extreme sports for kids from extreme backgrounds.
LIB: And how many youngsters do you work with these days?
MS: We started with 16 boys and now have 980. It’s my life project, literally, as it’s climbing teams founded on townships. I actually stayed and broke bread with people as I believe in today’s doom and gloom we need a ground-up approach that is founded on empathy and compassion to engineer the change we all desire. And we need the community and friends to do this.
LIB: This is a really innovative, forward-thinking take on community upliftment. Something we think so many will benefit from. Well done on your efforts, it’s wonderful to see.
MS: I believe, and know for sure, our project is life and with the knowledge and experiences I have thieved from living in these townships for many years at my darkest, most uncertain times I am certain of what my people really need and to survive. These last year’s I’ve learned to make myself an embodiment of this truth.
The Monde Sitole Foundation needs funds to maintain and grow this programme. The first step is to buy a van which will allow them to transport the kids between national parks across the Western Cape, climbing gyms, and other training venues. “If we promise things to the kids and don’t deliver, no matter how good the thought is, we end up hurting them more than helping them,” he explains.