Vancouver youth to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro: Street2Peak aims high

At-risk teenagers will tackle the adventure of a lifetime and reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Their communities can help them get there.

Savannah and Shivnay, Streetfront students
Street2Peak will send 18 at-risk teens, including Savannah and Shivnay, to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

From the streets of Vancouver to the roof of Africa

If it weren't for Streetfront, "I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now.” As I step forward with the voice recorder, Shivnay steps back, maintaining a five-foot buffer zone. “I’d be out doing... whatever, you know. I wouldn’t be in the school system. I wouldn’t in contact with my parents. I’d probably be in a house somewhere with the most shadiest kids. Streetfront changed that.”

Short and wiry, Shiv has already completed a marathon. He practices distance running several times a week with Streetfront, an alternative East Van secondary school that takes physical fitness very, very seriously. Now he's preparing to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

Shivnay, a Streetfront student
Shivnay, Streetfront student

Teacher Trevor Stokes explains, "Eighty percent of my kids come from the Downtown Eastside. They come to our school for a host of reasons. The reason primarily is that they need a different level of support than the mainstream kids. They’re not going to school primarily, and why aren’t they going to school, that’s a different... that’s a book! There’s a lot of reasons why they don’t go to school, but we gotta get them re-engaged, and we use the physical model. Forty percent of each day is physical activity."

Having taught at Streetfront for 17 years, Trevor's eyes brighten as he describes the regimen of stretching, soccer, and running that compliments traditional book-learning. "We have to get them healthy and feeling good about themselves.”

Trevor Stokes, Streetfront teacher
Trevor Stokes, Streetfront teacher and mentor

With Street2Peak, 18 at-risk Vancouver teenagers, including Savannah and Shiv, have set their sights on Africa's highest mountain. They will be accompanied by six adults, including a doctor as they tackle the six-day climb.

Life used to be hopeless for these young people, a hand-to-mouth existence with no end in sight. Now they have a chance to not only break that cycle but see parts of the world most of us only see on the Discovery Channel.

Street2Peak was the brainchild of Streetfront Principal Dr. Andrew Schofield, who was born and raised in South Africa. What started out as a suggestion for his birthday became an epic transglobal undertaking. Trevor describes this as classic Schofield: always making it about the kids.

From East Van to East Africa

This weekend, the Streetfront kids aim to tackle the Vancouver Marathon. That's four Sun Runs.

These teens, as you've already guessed, are not couch potatoes. Operating out of Britannia Secondary School, the Streetfront students have woven running into their daily lives. They chew up a minimum of 15km per week, and Streetfront runners take part in the Vancouver and Seattle Marathons every year.

That mentality is what will lead some of them to be the first in their families to graduate high school: they live in a world divorced from the privilege that most of us don't even notice.

The Streetfront students' home situations are too unstable to guarantee marathon participation, so early-bird signup discounts are not really feasible. Instead, they volunteer with running clubs in exchange for entry into marathons.

Beyond street running, the Streat2Peak students have been training in Garibaldi Park for altitude and cold-weather hiking, climbing the sort of terrain you'd rather be skiing down than slogging up.

Street2Peak training
It's all uphill from here. (Photo: Street2Peak)

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