Interview with Raha Moharrak, GTF 2014 Award for Excellence in Pioneering
Q: How does it feel to have made history?
A: I feel so proud and honored to have achieved such a huge accomplishment and represent my country throughout. Although it was a tough experience with a lot of exhaustion, I am so glad to say it has paid off in the end. I never set out to make history, but it’s so gratifying to know my passion for adventure earned me a place in history.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to climb? What prompted you?
A: My courage, curiosity and everything that makes me who I am today were planted in my heart as a child. I was blessed with parents who never asked me to change and taught me that my dreams are a reflection of the endlessness of my capabilities. But it never crossed my mind that following my own dream would open doors for so many other people’s own aspirations.
I would route it back to a time when I left my full-time job at a creative agency and was getting ready to go back to Saudi. I was nervous about the change and I wanted to do something different and adventurous. I heard about Kilimanjaro and it triggered my curiosity. I got a lot of resistance from my society and the people around me, which further pushed me toward making the decision to actually climb it. I felt like this was something that I really wanted to do and it would give me a completely new and different outlook on life in general. And it all initiated from there.
Q: What has been the hardest part of your climbing experiences?
A: Many people think climbing was the hardest part but to be honest, convincing my family was actually the most difficult part, getting them to accept the idea that I wanted to do something that was so different, dangerous and hard. Coming from a country that is so flat and hot all year round and training myself to adapt to a cold and harsh environment was also a very big challenge.
Q: And what has been the most inspiring part?
A: I would say the part that inspired me the most is being recognized as a pioneer. Having that title comes with such huge responsibility and of course makes me want to be a good role model. It inspired me to be a better person, to always take on challenges and never settle for being average.
Q: How do you compare Kilimanjaro and Everest in terms of hardship and expedition?
A: Kilimanjaro was my first mountain so it had its own set of challenges. At that time it was such a foreign and unknown territory to me, it was both physically and emotionally challenging. By the time I reached Everest, which took 60 days to complete, it was the same kind of emotional hardship and physical endeavor but on a very different scale.
Q: What have you learned?
A: I learned that we are capable of achieving wonders, we just need the courage to dream them and the conviction to pursue them.
Q: Do you think that women make better leaders than men?
A: Being a good leader is by no means gender specific. What makes a good leader is the balance of traits that both men and women have. And if found in a leader, it will make them a good one regardless of their gender.
Q: What summit (or challenge?) will be next?
A: I think my biggest challenge is not necessarily tied to a mountain. I’ve always thought that my biggest challenge would be living a fulfilled and happy life, content with what I have and what I have achieved to date. It’s important for me to always have a drive and a purpose in what I do.
Q: What message would you like to send to other Arab women – how can they become changemakers?
A: Curiosity is such a powerful trait and we should always feed it and follow our gut instincts and find the courage to follow our dreams. Be curious and be open to exploring new challenges and never limit yourself or set any restrictions. Live and believe in your dream, and go out there and pursuit it.
Though Raha graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Visional Communications from the American University of Sharjah and started a career at a leading advertising agency, her life changed the day she summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and challenged herself, her society, and culture. It was there, between the clouds, standing on Africa’s roof, where her spirit could no longer be silenced and nothing could hold her back from her love of adventure. Kilimanjaro opened the door to eight more summits, and on May 18, 2013, Raha made history by becoming the first Saudi woman to summit the legendary Mt. Everest, forever proving we can attempt the impossible and maybe even achieve it no matter where we are from. She is living proof that even a Saudi woman can stand on top of the world.