Liza Avelino is living proof that dreams do really come true and she regards Hong Kong as the place that has changed her life in every way in the two decades since she arrived in 1996 to become a maid at 23.
Now the 46-year-old has accomplished a lot, but her biggest feat was her April trek to Mount Everest Base camp in Nepal. Avelino is believed to be the first Filipino maid to reach base camp at an altitude of 5,360 meters and she was 600 meters short of reaching the top of the 6,190-meter Island Peak in the eastern Himalayas, reported the June edition of Around DB, a community magazine serving residents of Discovery Bay, Tung Chung and South Lantau.
“I thought if you go up to one of the highest points in the world, you’re on top of the world,” she told the magazine, “and that means you get to see the whole world, sort of like a shortcut.”
Surprisingly though, Avelino had never done a single hike before she came to Hong Kong. And it was in 2000, when she and a friend visited Central Library where they stumbled on a book on the history of Second World War battlefields and relics that can be found on hiking trails in Hong Kong.
“I used to hear from my soldier grandpa how he had to hide and survive in the caves during wartime. I couldn’t understand this as a child and so I wanted to see it for myself,” Avelino told the news website HK01.com on why she first visited Wong Nai Chung Gap and subsequently inspired to complete all the trails in the city.
Avelino initially hiked alone because her friends were either too tired from a week of domestic chores or their employers would not allow it. Many bosses feared that their employees could be injured and had to take sick leave.
In 2006, her second employer suggested she join the Hong Kong Trampers, where Avelino was the only Filipina maid among a group of professionals.
Avelino, who was still considered a beginner because she wore cloth shoes, had to keep up with the group on a trek in the Pat Sin Leng mountain range in the northeast New Territories.
Despite being totally exhausted after that tough hike, Avelino looked forward to every Sunday trip as she felt so spiritually energized.
At Hong Kong Trampers, everyone usually took the lead and Avelino was trained as a guide. During her moment in the sun as hike leader on the Dragon’s Back in southeastern Hong Kong Island, a French woman criticized her ability because of Avelino’s job as a domestic helper.
“It’s my job, but it does not define me,” Avelino told the French woman. Avelino was encouraged to ditch her low self-esteem by a lawyer in the hiking group, who invited her to a social gathering.
“They are all nice people and would not look down upon me because of the job,” she said. “Since then I read even more books so that I could take part in the discussions more.”
Avelino says that since life is short, she felt the urge to take on challenges by climbing more mountains – from Hong Kong’s Wong Nai Chung Gap, Mount Davis (269 meters), Sharp Peak (468 meters), Mount Baldy, California (1,278 meters), and Island Peak of the Himalayas (5,900 meters).