Kilimanjaro, here they come!

Kilimanjaro, here they come!

Kilimanjaro, here they come! 1716 1893 The Flyer Magazine

October Feature

Kilimanjaro, here they come!

Summiting to save the kids

It was all founded during bitter sweet times 15 years ago and in that time Queenstown-based global charity Orphans Aid International has raised millions of dollars for underprivileged kids around the world.

It’s been a constant uphill battle since founder Sue van Schreven – Queenstown’s own version of ‘Mother Teresa’ – opened that first orphanage in Romania in 2004. It’s therefore fitting that to celebrate the anniversary and raise more much-needed funds she and 15 others will climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania this month (October).

Sue and Carl training up Mount John

Sure and husband Carl at Mt John, Tekapo. 

Sue has been training for the gruelling 6000m assault on the world’s highest free-standing mountain – 2kms higher than Mount Cook – since January this year, but she’s taking on this challenge with the same passion and gusto that got her started.

“It was the death of my brother, who tragically took his own life, and the birth of my two sons that turned out to be the catalyst for the founding of Orphans Aid,” she says. The compassion of this mother’s heart was so strong that she couldn’t leave abandoned children uncared for, even on the other side of the globe. “I just envisaged children without parents and wanted to help them either find, or be reunited with, mums and dads and placed in good homes.”

A visit to Romania with husband, Carl, and their two sons, Ben and Daniel, then four and three, was such an eye-opener, she says. “When we opened that first orphanage three-year-old Andrei, who’s still there, was sitting at one end of the cot in a local hospital and he couldn’t walk or talk, and my son was at the other end. You just couldn’t comprehend the difference,” says Sue. Since then, at 18, Andrei has now overcome cancer and is in his final year of school, working part-time at a local bakery and hoping to become a chef. Like so many Romanian children from poverty-stricken families, he and his sister were left abandoned in a hospital by their parents in the heart-breaking hope that they would have a better life. “It still happens. It’s very sad,” says Sue. She started there and her heart was just too big to say, ‘no’, to the rest of the world.

Orphans Aid gradually built up contacts and its work spread to Russia, India and Nepal, Uganda, with fundraising shops also throughout
New Zealand.

Since then she and her team have organised 63 adoptions from the Romanian orphanage, and in Russia they facilitate reconciliation and the return of children to families. “There’s a massive need to get care around these children and good structure around homeless children who are without mums and dads, keeping them safe and giving them the basics,” she says.

The team of sponsored climbers, and a troop of sponsored supporters from around the world taking on their own ‘Kilimanjaro’, hope to raise $50,000, which will be used to fund the organisation’s Ugandan ‘Family Strengthening Project’ in Entebbe.

It’ll be an eight-day, formidable climb with the team clocking an eight-hour ascent and seven-hour descent on the final summit day. “We’ll be waving a massive Orphans Aid banner on the summit to celebrate 15 years of what’s been totally miraculous really,” says Sue. There will be a lot of altitude adjustment in what is a huge personal challenge for all involved. Back home other sponsored supporters are taking on the Queenstown Marathon to help fundraise for the cause and with donations already trickling in the whole effort has already raised about $15,000.

Sue’s been training about 15 hours a week and in the final weeks had to fit some 10-hour climbs in around her busy schedule, but it’s all worth it. “We’re working hard to try and keep these kids with their own families, rather than in orphanages, so in Uganda we identify the families that are at risk, often it’s HIV-related, or they’ve lost a family member,” she says. “We help them learn skills and support themselves in small businesses and we’ve had some real success with families who’ve been through the programme.”

Close to $10,000 raised at a 15th birthday celebration dinner in Palmerston North last month (September) will also go towards Orphans Aid’s running costs. The dinner was held at Wharerata Function Centre with Palmerston North chef Taka Moriyama, who’s made fundraising soup for Orphans Aid for 10 years, at the helm in the kitchen.

Sue, Carl, their sons Ben and Daniel and the other 12 climbers visited the Ugandan project before heading to Tanzania to start the climb.

For further information, or to donate, visit:


Sue (right) and Luminita training in a Romanian forest, with Florin who lives at Casa Kiwi, in Romania.


Sue takes a break during a training climb high above Lake Wakatipu on the Mt Crichton track.