03/23/2015 03:36 EDT | Updated 05/23/2015 05:59 EDT

Mt. Kilimanjaro Street2Peak climb brings tears and emotion to at-risk students

Fifteen high school students from the Street2Peak program for at-risk youth at East Vancouver's Britannia Secondary School have returned triumphant after summiting the highest peak in Africa — Mount Kilimanjaro.

"I almost gave up. The porter sent me up to our head guide and he asked me, 'Do you want to turn back?'

"I was crying, I was like, "No, I don't want to turn back, but I just don't want to do this anymore," student Savannah Dawson told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Dawson didn't turn back, and was the first girl in the group to make it to the peak, which stands at 5,895 metres above sea level in the upper highlands of Tanzania.

"I told my mom it was by far the hardest thing I'd ever done and I've gone through childbirth, so my mom was amazed. It was really emotional when we came home."

The students left Vancouver on March 5, and returned last Friday, on March 15. It took seven days to climb the mountain and return to the base.

"I was repeating to another girl, 'We're in Africa, we're in Africa, we're actually here,'" said Dawson.

The Street2Peak program is part of Streetfront — an alternative program for inner city youth. A majority of Streetfront's students live in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, about 80 per cent are aboriginal, and most live in poverty.

The Mount Kilimanjaro trip was the first time some of the students left B.C.

"It was the culmination of everything that we've worked for together. Not just going to Africa, but the larger individual battles that we fight every single day with these kids," said teacher Trevor Stokes, who heads up the program.

"To see them get to the top was so emotional. The metaphorical mountain — it really lived up to expectations."

To hear the full interview with Savannah Dawson and Trevor Stokes, click the audio labelled: Street2Peak students return from Mount Kilimanjaro.