WHEN Thandy Dibakoane lost her parents more than 10 years ago, she never imagined that she would ever travel beyond the borders of South Africa.
Yet, tonight, she will make her way to France for 10 days.
The 16-year-old is one of eight teenagers selected to take part in a 170km hiking trip around the base of Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc.
"I am very excited about flying on an aeroplane. I look forward to seeing a different world and different people," she said.
The eight, aged 14 to 19, are among 361 beneficiaries of Children of the Dawn, a support organisation for orphaned and vulnerable children affected by HIV/Aids.
They were selected after a hiking training programme with professional guides and caregivers in areas near their home towns.
National project manager Magali Malherbe said the aim of the programme was to develop their fitness and endurance levels, physically and mentally.
"We are trying to show them that they do not have to be held hostage by their circumstances and that they can do anything they apply their minds to.
"Instead of just giving them a lecture on life, we want to take them around the base of the mountain and relate that to the ups and downs of life," Malherbe said.
They will be accompanied by Malherbe and two supervisors from the organisation on the R500000 trip, which is being paid for by donations. On Sunday, two local guides will start them on their 1200m hike around the Alps via Lake Jovet to Refuge du col de la Croix du Bonhomme, where they will spend the night. Their hike is on the popular path through France, Italy and Switzerland, through the Col de Fours, Ville des Glaciers, Visaille and Grand Col Ferret to Trient, at 2665m. Tshepisho Makgareetsa, 19, from Mathabatha, Limpopo, said: "I am excited by the trip but look forward to teaching youngsters in my community to overcome their fears of the unknown. I have learnt hiking is like a battle - we all have our own mountain to climb."