“No words or photos can do it justice. I felt joy that this experience was restoring sight for so many people”

Martina Parker is a holistic therapist and school secretary from Galway. She took part in the First Light for Sight challenge in January 2023 and raised more than €8,000.

Here, Martina shares her experience of doing the expedition as a first-time skier, and how she was able to meet her fundraising goal.

Were you a Sightsavers supporter before you signed up for the challenge?

Yes, I was a supporter before doing the challenge.

What motivated you to get involved?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Artic and wanted to go there, but I could never envisage how to make it happen. This challenge popped up on Facebook and I thought why not. I imagined loads of people would apply for it so I thought if it’s meant to be, it will happen!

What kind of training did you do before the challenge?

I walk daily so I just did some more of that. I also attended the training days with where they briefed us on what lay ahead.

How did you feel in the lead-up?

I was excited and really looking forward to it. I was also a bit apprehensive – not so much for the challenge, but about the week ahead sharing accommodation etc with people I didn’t really know.

How did you find the challenge?

The challenge was amazing and exceeded every expectation. The beauty of the area is mind-blowing and mesmerising. From seeing the Northern Lights on the first night to preparing for the freezing temperatures, to the physicality of the challenge and the remoteness, silence and spirituality of it all.

No words or photos can do it justice; the feeling sits in my heart. The joy that this experience was restoring sight for so many people was mind-blowing.

What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of the experience?

The most challenging thing was probably the preparation that we needed to do to get going each day. It involved so many layers and bags with extra gear. It’s so important to stay warm but not overly so. I found that your hair and eyelashes freeze almost immediately in sub-zero conditions.

It was time-consuming and tricky putting on skis and snowshoes, especially with cold fingers. Even though I had no skiing experience, the group was very helpful and supportive, so I caught on pretty quickly, albeit slowly but surely.

What was the highlight?

The highlight was the overnight challenge, returning in the morning and seeing that amazing first sunrise. The beauty was phenomenal and so emotional.

How did you feel when you saw the first sunrise?

I was emotional and made speechless by its beauty.

What did you learn about yourself during the challenge?

I learned that we can do anything we set our minds to once the decision has been made. When you challenge yourself, you grow and enjoy the journey. You can rise to the challenge and achieve things you never thought you could, so go for it!

How did you find the group?

The group had interesting dynamics and some very different personalities. We all came together with our own reasons to do this amazing challenge.

How did you find could have not been more helpful, professional or supportive. They were simply amazing and tirelessly patient. Nothing was left to chance, which was obviously crucial given that the conditions were potentially life-threatening.

What did you learn about Sightsavers throughout the challenge?

Sightsavers is an amazing charity doing life-changing work in some of the most remote parts of the world. This innovative challenge raised almost €100k – far exceeding the initial target. I think I’ll always have an amazing connection with Sightsavers.

How did you find the fundraising?

The fundraising was a challenge in the sense that I wondered how I was going to do it. I decided to put on an 80s night with a raffle and an auction – it worked out so well! My family – my husband in particular – also helped with messaging other family and friends. I far exceeded the target, which I was blown away by.

I’d also like to say a special thanks to my colleagues at Colaiste Bhaile Chlair (secondary school in Galway) who were very supportive and so generous. They hosted a Christmas tree fundraiser along with bake sales, which I was so grateful for. They also very kindly gave me the time off to go on the expedition!

Any message or advice for anyone that would consider doing this type of challenge for Sightsavers in 2024?

Do it! You’ll do so much to change the lives of people who need sight-saving operations, and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime.

Fundraiser Martina with Ronan from
Martina (right) with Ronan from during the Arctic challenge in Finland.

Want to learn more about First Light for Sight?

About the challenge