By Stephanos Antoniades
For many years, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was on my bucket list. I don’t remember when it made it onto the list or what prompted me to add it. I just remember thinking that it was the only continental peak that one could hike to, as compared to a mountain like Everest which is a technical climb, needing special skills, training, and a lot of money! As such, I felt it was a big adventure I could add to my bucket list and manage to check it off one day.
When I decided it was time to check it off and I started doing research for the trip, I looked to find a book that would help me plan and prepare for the trip. The book I found was “Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain” by Henry Stedman. I first discovered it through a web search and stumbled on the author’s website. It had a link to Amazon to purchase the book, and a variety of information about the climb.
On the front page of the website, I noticed a link named “Charity Climbs”. While climbing Kilimanjaro as part of a charity climb was not on my radar, curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked on that link. The rest, as they say, is history! It is a history that has had me travel to 3 continents, including twice to Africa, and has connected my wife Olga and I to 22 children in the Kili region (now 24).
When I opened the page listing the charity climbs, first on the list was Make A Difference (MAD). There were other charity climbs on the list, some of which had more familiar charities associated with them, but there was one unique thing about MAD that “made the difference”: it included spending a few days volunteering with the people your fundraising would be directly benefiting! While I had participated in walks/hike/etc. for the typical charity causes going all the way back to my teens, this was the first time I had come across a scenario like this where I would get to witness firsthand the effects of the money I would raise.
So doing this was an easy decision for me. Convincing my wife to participate would take a bit more work, as her bucket list did not include a Kili climb! But I still knew there was a way that would make a trip to Tanzania an easy decision for her too. We had talked about the possibility of a volunteer trip in the past, and the opportunity hadn’t come up yet. I thought that she might be interested in spending more time volunteering with the children while I climbed Kilimanjaro, and my thoughts proved to be correct. We decided to reach out to friends to see if anyone would be interested in joining us, either to climb with me or to spend time volunteering with Olga, and we were both able to find people interested in both. I found a friend interested in the climb (and she brought along a friend of hers), and Olga found a friend interested in volunteering with the children. So my original interest in the MAD climb got 5 people to travel to Tanzania (and fundraise for MAD!).
The actual experience was even better than we expected! We both got more than we hoped for and the connection with the children was instantaneous! It would also turn out to be a long-term connection. My wife and I decided to sponsor one of the children supported by MAD; her name is Upendo, which means Love in Swahili! I am writing this blog entry during our 2nd trip to Africa to spend time with the children. This time both of us are volunteering with MAD for 8 days. Between that first trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro in 2013 and this 2nd trip to volunteer in 2017, I have done 2 other treks/climbs with MAD. I participated on the first MAD Patagonia trek in 2015, and the first MAD trek to Mt Everest Base camp last year (good thing for MAD that I have a long bucket list!). Since I came one day short of reaching that goal in 2016, I will be leading the 2nd trek to Mt Everest Base camp for MAD in 2018 (see below for flyer)! I am hopeful we will be able to get a large group of people to participate that will help raise even more money for MAD!
The end result of that one fateful click in October of 2012 has resulted in the 2 of us directly or indirectly helping raise somewhere in the vicinity of 15-20 thousand dollars for those children. And if that money wasn’t enough, it has created a connection for us that will likely last for many years to come!