Climbing for a Cause
I arrived in Kilimanjaro under less than auspicious circumstances. 18 hours before we were to depart for the mountain, my bag hadn’t arrived and I was still administering ear drops for an infection (that led to a ruptured ear drum and hearing loss) contracted 10 days earlier. They say Kili is as psychological a challenge as it is a physical one. I didn’t feel ready.
But I was as ready as I was going to be. En route to the trailhead at Machame Gate, we were met in dramatic fashion by a representative of the travel company who had released my bag from it’s Eid Holiday prison. After that, days 1-4 passed in a surprisingly enjoyable fashion as my group got to know the mountain and each other. Day 5 was the tough one. We hiked three hours to Barafu Camp in the morning, then rested for a few hours before setting off for Uhuru Peak at midnight (Day 6). For 6.5 hours I pursued the 1200 m climb with determination. But just as the sun was rising, it seemed that every struggle in the world hit me. Every breath hurt and every step required conscious effort and an answer to the question ‘why not stop?’
For me, one of the primary motivating factors was the fact so many people had supported me in my quest to get to Kilimanjaro and I couldn’t let them down. I was climbing for the Right to Live Association, a Cairo-based charity for the intellectually disabled. I had been looking for a way to approach Kili for a few years and it was after I moved to the Middle East and in the height of the Arab Spring that I finally found my cause. I wanted to support a local company and aspects of civil society that could be adversely affected by political transition. Paying for my trek and raising money for a worthy charity was a way to do that. In turn, many people supported me in my fundraising initiatives that included hosting catered dinners, a quiz night, and a women’s association-supported bake sale. I owed them – and myself – a summit photo.
Taking on adventure travel in support of an organization is a great way to see the world and support something close to your heart. Unfortunately we might need external rewards (like awareness-raising adventure travel) to be inspired to support certain causes. We know, for example, that people are more willing to donate money in response to disasters that have natural (floods or drought) rather than human causes (like war and corruption). This may, in part, explain why so many people contributed to Asian tsunami relief (both in 2004, and this year in Japan) but why so few contribute to aid Darfur. We also know that people are likely to donate more money the more a disaster is shown in the news, meaning the more it has a strategic importance in a specific area. Finally, we know that we are more willing to aid others with whom we share some common identity.
In other words, it can be hard to attract funding for humanitarian needs in quieter regions of the globe. Creating opportunities for grassroots fundraising is one way for such charities to motivate increased funding. What they need to do is find a relatively small group of people who are inspired to go out and work on their behalf. I myself got involved due to my desire to make a commitment to the region in which I live. In other words, I had heightened awareness of the need and increased identification with the cause. But as a result of that interest, I was able to involve a few hundred more people through my fundraising efforts and training updates.
Many organizations plan triathlons, marathons, or walk-a-thons, others ask for larger contributions and awareness raising by setting up adventure travel trips. Participating in such trips may look somewhat selfish (I got to climb Kilimanjaro!) but who cares? If you can combine something you love with something that does good, why not? This method of fundraising is both efficient and effective. And in my case, it got me up the mountain.