NEWS

Nepal trip to raise funds for injured Canadian soldiers

07/19/2012 05:11 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT
In October, an expedition of Canadian soldiers will go to Nepal.

Their mission: mountain climbing to raise awareness and funds for injured Canadian soldiers and their families.

The soldiers taking part were themselves injured in Afghanistan or while serving elsewhere in the army, except for team captain Raymond Joseph.

The True Patriot Love Foundation, which is organizing the expedition, says 2,047 Canadian Forces personnel have been wounded in Afghanistan.

The foundation's goal is to raise $2 million through the expedition and other efforts.

Half the money is designated for mental health programs and services, while the remainder will be spent on physical health and rehabilitation, and health and support services for the families of soldiers.

On Thursday, they announced the names of the fifteen former soldiers and reservists, along with two spares, who will join the expedition.

Three are women.

Jessica Wiebe, 24, is the youngest participant and Joseph, 47, is the oldest.

Soldiers who sustained an injury as a result of their service could apply to participate.

They have already trained for three days on the Columbia Icefield, which lies between Banff and Jasper national parks in Alberta.

They head back to the icefield Thursday morning.

The expedition will arrive in Nepal on Oct. 7.

After about two weeks of additional training and conditioning climbs, including to Mount Everest base camp, they plan to begin an ascent of Island Peak on Oct. 22.

A soldier's story

Wiebe remembers when the email about the expedition arrived. Getting chosen would mean she could be part of a team again, experiencing "the camaraderie that comes from working together to achieve a goal."

In 2008, she did a six-month tour in Afghanistan with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Although trained as a bombardier, most of Cpl. Wiebe's time in Afghanistan was spent clearing and protecting roads for local Afghans who were hired to build roads and irrigation systems.

She had joined the army reserves and started basic training a week after finishing high school. Born and raised in Brandon, Man., she studied for one year at Brandon University before heading overseas.

She sustained a shrapnel wound to her torso and an operational stress injury, which the Canadian Forces defines as a persistent psychological difficulty resulting from military service, including anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

A year after her Afghanistan tour Wiebe went travelling. In Nepal she saw Mount Everest from the air and it took her breath away. "I promised myself at that moment that I would come back one day."

She recognized that the expedition experience would be an excellent opportunity "to work through some stuff that I haven't been able to work through on my own."

For the soldiers, "the True Patriot Love expedition is special in that not only are we going to be able to help ourselves, we'll be able to help other soldiers who are injured that cannot do the expedition," Wiebe told CBC News.

Wiebe taking time off school

Wiebe is now an art student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Drawings by Wiebe are currently touring Canada as part of a show called Defining Moments, a national art competition for emerging artists.

Wiebe's collection — Dust Series — is rapid execution drawings based on photos of soldiers in Afghanistan and her own memories, which she describes as buried in dust.

She describes her art as a "personal reflection lightly touching political and social ideals; using creativity to work through my life and break down any limitations I have of myself." Her military service and Canada's presence in Afghanistan are the foundation of her work.

"I don't like to dip the tip of my brush in a palette of paint; I jump in to the bucket even though it is messy, it makes life more exciting," Wiebe writes.

Now she's excited about the Himalayan expedition, even if it means taking off time from art school.

MORE:cbcNews