Hiking the desert for women’s shelters

Story by Yose Cormier

This month, Jennifer Stewart will be leaving the comfort of her Wellington Village home for a week of hiking through the Sahara Desert, complete with Bedouin-style tents, hot days and lots of sand.

“I am a little freaked out at the thought of sleeping on the ground with snakes, scorpions and tarantulas,” she admits.

The hike is the culmination of a fundraising effort for the Royal Lepage Shelter Foundation, which is dedicated to funding women’s shelters and violence prevention programs. It’s only open to Royal Lepage realtors.

Jennifer Stewart hiked in Iceland as part of a Royal Lepage fundraiser.
Two years ago, Jennifer Stewart took part in a fundraising hike in Iceland to raise funds for women’s shelters. This year, she’s doing it again, but in the Sahara Desert. Photo credit: Jennifer Stewart

“My partner in the realty business, Diane Allingham, and I have always been top donors to the shelter foundation. It’s a charity we believe in, and in fact, every transaction we make, we donate a portion to the foundation. It’s important for us to give back to our community. I also have an adventurous soul, so this fundraising trek allows me to combine both.”

Jennifer will be leaving on Nov. 18 for Morocco, where she will have some time to acclimatize to the weather and get ready for a weeklong, 100 km trek through the Sahara Desert.

Each hiker will have to carry their own day-packs, which Stewart says will contain lunch, snacks, a change of clothes, emergency kit and water… a lot of water. At night, the hikers will be sleeping in Bedouin-style tents.

“The trek is designed as a physical and psychological challenge, although I think the biggest challenge in Morocco will be water. We’ll have to carry a lot of it,” says Jennifer.

This is the third biannual fundraising effort of this kind for the Royal Lepage Shelter Foundation, whose goal is to raise $865,000 from across the country this year.

Jennifer will have taken part in all three fundraisers now, sort of. In 2015, she raised money for the event in Peru, where participants hiked the Inca Trail into Macchu Picchu. Unfortunately, she had to drop out a few weeks before the hike after breaking her leg in a skiing incident.

She was able to complete the second trek, in Iceland in 2017.

Jennifer says she is more of a cold-weather person, so while Iceland was in her comfort zone, she says this one in Morocco is not. Heat aside, she knows there will be other major differences.

“Iceland was physically taxing. We were climbing constantly, and some of the trails had me thinking ‘if I misstep, I could die,’” she says, adding that they even had lunch in a volcanic crater which had been recently active.

Jennifer has been training over the summer, constantly going hiking, taking long walks and even doing some strength training in the gym.

“These long distances are hard for the joints, and the uphills can be challenging. But when I finished the trek in Iceland, I felt I could have kept going. I was a little sad to stop. I like the camaraderie of the event. It’s quite an experience and you build great and strong relationships,” she said.

In fact, she’s looking forward to reconnecting with people she met during the Iceland trek two years ago.

Approximately 120 Royal Lepage employees from across the country will take part. They will be divided into four groups, with departure dates staggered for logistical reasons.

The group, accompanied by a train of camels and local guides, will travel approximately 20 km a day, crossing sand dunes and some small mountains.

In order to participate, Jennifer had to raise a minimum of $5,000 for charity (she is aiming for $7,000) and cover all the associated costs herself (flights, hotels, food, etc.), which she figures will be about $5,000.

Of the funds raised, 20% stays with the Royal Lepage Shelter Foundation for its educational programs around domestic violence efforts while the other 80% goes to the participant’s charity of choice.

Jennifer chose the Lanark County Emergency Shelter and the Interval House of Ottawa’s pet sanctuary project.

The Interval House of Ottawa labels itself as “the only shelter in Ottawa and surrounding areas to allow women, and children into the shelter with their pets.”

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