Cape Town — A Cape Town student is swopping her shoes for skis and Africa's sunny skies for snow when she joins an epic expedition to Antarctica. The ultimate goal? To raise awareness about the planet's most precious resource, water.
Kim Smith has come a long way from her humble upbringing in the Cape Town suburb of Bishop Lavis to her latest travel adventure alongside seasoned explorers Ann Bancroft and Liv Arneson.
The expedition, conceived by Arneson and Bancroft, was looking for a young woman from each continent to join them on the gruelling 80-day trip. Smith, who is currently a Master's student in Developmental Studies at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, was selected as the African representative.
Arneson and Bancroft organise the expedition to raise awareness about the planet's most precious resource, water. Antarctica is home to the world's largest fresh water reserves. Each of the women will represent the key water challenge on their continent. Kim Smith has identified a lack of access to clean water as Africa's main water-related issue.
80-kilo sledge, 50-kilo woman
The Antarctic weather conditions are punishing, which will make the trip will both a physical and a mental edurance test. The team of women will be retracing the footsteps of Antarctica pioneers Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen.
Every day, each woman on the expedition will have to pull an 80-kilo sledge with food and equipment across the ice. Smith, 27, weighs just 50 kilo. She sees this latest challenge as an extension of her life where she dreamed big despite limited resources.
"My mother always used to say that if you ask for something, you have a 50 percent chance of getting it and a 50 percent chance of not getting it. But if you don't ask then you have a 100 percent chance of not getting what you want," Smith says, who is training hard in anticipation for the expedition in November this year.
Her physical regime includes simulation techniques such as pulling tyres on sand or grass to emulate pulling her 80-kilo sledge on the ice, and exercising in a climate room to get used to low temperatures.
Dreams of flying
While Smith describes herself as "shy" and "introvert", she credits her parents with spurring her along to achieve her dreams. One of those dreams was flying on an aeroplane. She says she remembers watching the planes fly over Bishop Lavis and telling whoever would listen that she was going to get into one of those.
This was always met with laughter, but soon came the time when she got the opportunity to travel. Her first trip out of the country and, for that matter, her first trip out of the Western Cape, came when she was awarded a scholarship to travel to the USA.
Since then, she has not calmed her itchy feet, and travelled to a few European countries including Sweden, the United Kingdom and, in preparation for her latest expedition, twice to Norway.
Other people's pain
Her travels, the Mandela Rhodes scholarship, the meeting with Nelson Mandela: it didn't get to her head. She hasn't forgotten where she came from. "We lived with my grandparents in Bishop Lavis and my grandmother was very involved in the community and in church, as were my parents," she says.
"I would tag along with my grandmother to the soup kitchens and old age homes she visited. It was during those years that I was exposed to death, pain, hunger and poverty. I think that is where it all started for me. I internalised other people's pain from a very young age." Smith is an active volunteer and works for various non-profit projects in the townships of Khayelitsha and Bonteheuwel in Cape Town.