American University of Beirut

Using Climbing to Improve Mental Health is an “Art of Public Health”

​​Climbing was a turning point in her life. Elsa Raidy had just turned 18 and was going through a stressful period in her life. Her father, a climbing amateur, introduced her to this sport to help her cope with her stress. She instantly became very interested in climbing. Elsa explains, “Climbing puts you in an alert state. You feel vulnerable in front of the rocks, mentally and physically. You need to be present in the moment, and control your thoughts and your fears; otherwise you cannot complete your climb." Three years later, Elsa is now an intermediate climber.

Through her climbing gym, Elsa got introduced to ClimbAid. A non-governmental organization (NGO) that offers psycho-social support, through climbing therapy, to children affected by war, poverty and displacement. In L​​ebanon, ClimbAid mainly works in the underserved Bekaa Valley area which hosts a refugee population the size of its original population. The NGO needed volunteers to help train children in climbing. Elsa felt ecstatic to share her passion for climbing and enrolled with ClimbAid as a full-time volunteer. “I know how therapeutic climbing can be. That is why I wanted to help others benefit from this sport," Elsa notes.

Elsa feels the difference in the children she mentors—the confidence and self-esteem they gain from climbing. She explains that once people conquer their fears; they become unstoppable. Quoting Elsa, “Falling and starting again is the essence of climbing. Climbing teaches you to take calculated risks. When you're 30 meters above the ground and have to make a move, you're not certain that you're going to catch the next hole. You think: what if I slip? Your feet start trembling. Most of the time, you fall, over and over again. Now, you know how falling feels like; you're not afraid of falling anymore." Climbing provides children with a safe space to reflect, develop strength, stamina and confidence that could play an important role in helping them cope with life challenges.

With a Bachelor's degree in biochemistry, Elsa had decided to pursue a Master's degree in molecular biology. But her volunteering work with ClimbAid led her into a different path; a path where she could make the positive social impact she wishes to make. The satisfaction and the warmth she felt after each climbing session led her to choose a career in public health. A web search on public health education in Lebanon showed the Master's degree in Public Health (MPH) at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut. After some exploration of the concentrations offered, she chose to enroll in the Program concentration that would enable her to master the skills for developing and implementing effective health promotion interventions. 

Elsa's passion lies in promoting youth wellbeing by practicing climbing as a tool for building strength and resilience. She teaches them how to overcome burdens and persevere- that learning from experience and bouncing back, stronger and wiser, is the key. This is an art of public health! ​​​

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