AUGUSTA — Climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in subzero temperatures, Heather Veilleux looked to the bracelet.

It had been given by children of an orphanage her team of climbers had visited earlier in their trip. It was meant to help carry her to the top of Africa’s highest mountain, at 19,341 feet above sea level.

Veilleux, who grew up in Hallowell and attended Hall-Dale schools, said the seven days of climbing to the summit of the mountain in Tanzania were “the best and worst thing we have done, and the most rewarding experience I can say I have felt.”

Her climbing team included Ashley Underwood, a Benton native and former basketball star at Cony High School and the University of Maine, who also was a finalist on the TV show “Survivor,” and Ellen Sherwood, of Portland, who grew up in Augusta, attended Cony High School and works at a therapeutic center for children with autism.

The team arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, during the wee hours of Jan. 4 and then traveled 1 1/2 hours to the village of Njabini, home of the Flying Kites Home & Leadership Academy, a nonprofit school that helps orphaned and abused poor children. They were welcomed by more than 40 children singing and dancing for them, Veilleux said.

They spent the next few days at the school, learning about the children’s hobbies and their lives. The children were so polite and outgoing, Veilleux said, which was all the more shocking given that they had “overcome such heartache at such a young age.”

Veilleux said the difficulty of climbing Kilimanjaro later on in their journey was not nearly as hard as waving good-bye to the children they had traveled some 30 hours to help.

“They walked us down the long winding road to the center of town to get on our bus, carrying our small luggage to ‘prove’ that they are helpful,” Veilleux said. “They gave us hugs and words of encouragement and as we all shed tears we took our last picture together — then our bus pulled away. At that moment, the bus was silent and in pain for having to leave them so soon. But knowing what we were doing in the coming week was for those incredible kids was enough to keep our heads high.”

The group, which raised money for the orphanage and school before their trip, plan to raise more for the children on Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. at RiverBack Dance Club in downtown Augusta. They plan an African-themed night of music, videos, photos and other activities organized by Heels to Healing, an Augusta-based nonprofit organization Veilleux founded.

Sherwood said they’re holding the event because the children they met on the trip “changed our lives forever, and we want to do everything possible to change theirs.”

Admission to the over 21 years old event is by donation. Money raised will go to Flying Kites Home and Leadership Academy.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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