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Kathmandu – Mark Squirrell leaves Kathmandu today on a different sort of field mission.

As the security officer for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Nepal, Squirrell normally makes many trips to the remote and undeveloped districts of the country, where WFP assists thousands of families each year. Today, however, Squirrell is on his way to the Everest region, in the hopes of scaling the world’s highest peak. The climb is intended as a unique opportunity to raise awareness in the region about child hunger, while raising money for WFP programmes helping children in Nepal in the process.

The expedition will be hoping to summit Everest on 21 May, on the same day as “Walk the World” – when hundreds of thousands of people around the world will walk in communities to call for an end to child hunger. Walk the World is organized each year by WFP and its partners to raise awareness and funds to fight the scourge of child hunger, which accounts for 18,000 deaths a day. In 2005, over 200,000 people participated in Walk the World, raising US$1.5 million.

“I’m very excited to finally be going,” said Squirrell, who is universally known as “Squiz”. “To be able to combine a personal dream with the potential of helping children in this country while raising awareness about hunger is both rewarding and humbling.”

Squiz, an Australian national, has been training for the climb for months, and will be taking time off from his regular job to make the attempt. (The climb is a personal effort, not a WFP initiative, but is supported by WFP worldwide.) He has already lined up sponsors that have provided funding, services and equipment, including Youngone and the Chaudhary Group. With the help of sponsors, expenses for the climb have been kept to a minimum, and all proceeds from donors will go to WFP’s school feeding programmes in Nepal.

WFP provides food for 570,000 children through schools in 22 districts of Nepal. By giving children a nutritious hot mid-day meal, WFP school feeding programmes encourage school attendance and allow students to concentrate on their studies. In some schools, girls are given an additional take-home food ration as an added incentive for their families to send them to schools.

In Kathmandu, WFP staff members and 1,500 school children are expected to mark Walk the World with a walk from Maitighar to Patan Durbar Square. Around the world, Walk the World 2006 is expected to involve 750,000 participants in over 100 countries.

The Everest expedition is hoping to reach the summit of Everest on or around 21 May in conjunction with Walk the World. However, there is usually only a short window of opportunity to climb beyond Camp Four (7925 metres) in mid-May. Updates on the expedition will be available at

“Whether we make the summit or not, this is an incredible opportunity,” said Squiz. “We have the ability to make people more aware of the ongoing problem of hunger in the region and with luck, help hundreds of children in the process. We’re ready.”