DB helper Liza Avelino chases her dreams

DB helper Liza Avelino has worked hard to make her own dreams come true, and now she’s helping others do the same.

Just back from a Herculean Himalayan climb, she’s a living inspiration, writes Angie Bucu

Arriving in DB from her home in Davos, Philippines, for her first job as a foreign domestic helper, 24-year-old Liza Avelino dreamt that one day she would travel the world. Almost 20 years on, now with her third family in DB, Liza has just completed one part of this dream, a remarkable achievement that most of us wouldn’t even dare to attempt.

This April, Liza trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal (5,360 metres), and came just 600 metres short of scaling 6,190-metre Imja Tse, better known as Island Peak. “People say I’m the first Filipina helper to climb in the Himalayas,” Liza says with a smile.

“I thought if you go up to one of the highest points in the world, you’re on top of the world,” she adds. “And that means you get to see the whole world, sort of like a shortcut.”

Sharing the love

In achieving her dream, and despite the meagre wage of a foreign domestic worker, Liza did not fundraise or ask for handouts. “It’s really sweet when it comes from your own pocket,” she says, having paid for the expedition for the greatest part from her salary and bonuses. Her employers, Phil Smith and Julia Aufenast paid for her flights to and from Nepal and she accepted some small gifts of money and equipment from friends both in DB and around Hong Kong.

When her story was shared on social media by DB friends Myriam Bartu of Enrich, a local charity that offers financial advice to domestic workers, and Steve Chitty, organiser of May’s Helper Appreciation Month in DB, Liza was flooded with well wishes and offers of financial support. Rather incredibly, Liza has redirected all donations to Enrich, so that the charity can continue helping other migrant workers like herself.

On May 5, a week or so after her return from Nepal, Liza participated on a compelling panel discussion at Hemingway’s in DB, about what it is to inspire and be inspired by others. While the story of her climb is inspirational in itself, Liza also shared her first-hand experience of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region on April 25. In Kathmandu with her fellow trekkers, just days after their climb, she slept outside in a tent, too afraid to sleep inside in case of aftershocks. The group’s Sherpa brought them warm tea and food in the morning, despite just having heard that his village had been destroyed.

Liza is encouraging people to donate to victims of the disaster by contacting the leader of her expedition, Ian Taylor, who is providing direct aid to Nepali villagers in need.

Seizing the day

Over the years, Liza has impressed and inspired many people with her determination and commitment, to both her work and her dream. Of her work she says, “My belief is that if you are employed to do a job you do it well no matter what, or you don’t do it at all. When I work I give my all and I think my employers feel that. I’m certainly not ashamed about my job.”

As a full-time helper, with two young children in her care, the bulk of Liza’s hiking (and training) is limited to Sundays. She enjoys the gruelling trek from Mui Wo to Ngong Ping, via the twin peaks of Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak; and for something a little less strenuous, she takes on Tiger’s Head, via the trail behind the Greens.

Liza says she’s been drawn to the hills and hiking since she first moved to DB. At the suggestion of her then employer, former DB resident Jackie O’Brien, she joined The Hong Kong Trampers, a group set up in 1997 with a mission to explore the local countryside with like-minded people. In recent years, she has organised hiking expeditions for fellow ‘trampers’ to remote, mountainous areas of the Philippines.

The next step on Liza’s road to Everest Base Camp was completing the 100-kilometre Oxfam Trailwalker in 2010. “We finished in 34 hours and I was the only Filipina in my team, I felt so proud of myself,” she says. “I found it quite challenging but I like that kind of thing.” She completed the race again in 2011, this time as a team leader.

Liza has a physical memento of the Trailwalker, one that she turns to daily, a tattoo of a dragonfly with the words carpe diem (seize the day) in Sanskrit on her wrist. “I chose a dragonfly because even though they have a short lifespan, they live every moment of it to the fullest,” she explains. “When I look at this it reminds me to do just that.”

Scaling great heights

Lantau’s toughest trails and highest peaks aren’t nearly enough to prepare a climber for a 6,100-metre ascent in the Himalayas. So Liza’s training saw her conquer two other impressive mountains in Asia: Mount Kinabalu in Sabah Malaysia at 4,100 metres for altitude experience, and Japan’s Mount Yarigatake at 3,180 metres for a rehearsal in snow climbing – her first ever experience in the snow.

Neither climb however, prepared Liza for what was to come in the Himalayas. “The altitude is difficult, and then there is the cold. It’s nothing like what I have felt before,” she says, explaining that a severe drop in temperature after 4,420 metres accompanied by unrelenting snow and rain frequently tested her determination.

Liza’s expedition guide, Ian of Ian Taylor Trekking, says on his website that the weather was strange with colder temperatures, more snow and stronger winds than usual, perhaps a precursor to the earthquake on April 25.

Liza soon discovered that her clothing wasn’t adequate for the -15◦C conditions. She was also finding it difficult to breathe, so on the advice of her guide she opted to fall short of her 6,190-metre summit target, by just 600 metres.

Many valuable memories remain: A helicopter ride around Everest Base Camp gifted by her trekking companions, lasting friendships, and a commitment to return to conquer Island Peak and collect the Philippines flag left for her on the summit.

Aid for the Himalayas

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that struck the region on April 25 and May 12, aid is urgently needed throughout Nepal, Bangladesh and India. You can make a donation by contacting Liza’s Nepal-based expedition leader, Ian Taylor Trekking. For other ways to help, look to the Around DB Facebook page.

Find it

• Enrich, www.enrichhk.org

• Ian Taylor Trekking, iantaylortrekking.com/our-current-plan-to-help-in-nepal

• The Hong Kong Trampers, www.hktrampers.com

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