Hamilton South resident to hike three peaks to aid women and girls in South America

EMPOWER women and you empower a community, according to Hamilton South resident Sonja Duncan.

In October, she will lead a team of 12 women hikers across three South American countries to raise money for women and girls, and support conservation programs in the Andes.

The walk - 3Peaks in 3Weeks South America - will cover Huayna Picchu, overlooking Machu Picchu in Peru (2720 metres); Licancabur, an active volcano in Bolivia (5916 metres) and Oportus, a glacial mountain in Patagonia National Park, Chile (2073 metres).

It's not a trek that is on any travel brochure.

"It will be a physical trek and also an internal personal journey," Ms Duncan said.

Participants will raise $US60,000 to be shared between three organisations, which the group will visit during the trip.

"We will see a snapshot of the importance of each program," Ms Duncan said.

In the Andes women are mothers, farmers, teachers and entrepreneurs, and a great deal hinges on their success.

"Evidence shows that with equal access to education, training and means, women can raise the living standards of their families and inject new life into the local economy," she said.

Ms Duncan runs two businesses in environmental and sustainability consulting and e-learning.

She was inspired to join the hike three years ago by an ad for the Peaks Foundation, an American not-for-profit group that organises expeditions to inspire its participants and raise funds to help women and girls.

The plans have changed and Ms Duncan has become the trip leader, but with the foundation's support.

Eighteen months ago, she did a trip to Peru and spent five days at one of the organisations, GirlSportWorks.

In Peru, girls have no access to sports and this program teaches teenage girls self-confidence, leadership, communication, team work and healthy living through athletics.

Through partnering with four schools and a teenage mothers' refuge, it reaches hundreds of girls each year.

Ms Duncan said it was not a big program but an important one.

"But you don't realise how important until you go and see it.

"They learn they can achieve anything, anything that boys can do. It was very empowering for me and the girls were amazed a woman from Australia cared enough to spend time with them."

■ Fund-raising Movie Night, featuring the blockbuster Noah and a short documentary film Mountains will Move produced by Peaks Foundation, is on this Friday, March 28, Tower Cinemas, at 6.30pm. Tickets $20, go to stickytickets.com.au/15762 to book or buy on the night from Sonja Duncan. Follow the 3P3W South America '14 - Newcastle team on Facebook.

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