Giving Back, Porters' Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

 “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” 

- Muhammad Ali

 Summit photo of me in all my rented gear in 2006! 

Summit photo of me in all my rented gear in 2006! 

As a child, I was taught by my parents to either give my time, money or skillset to others who were in need, regardless of how much or how little I have. I recently made the decision to return back to Tanzania this winter for three months, not to volunteer, but for personal reasons. My heart has unfinished business in this country and the individuals in my life who are close to me, understand how deep my connection runs with Tanzania. I have spent over a year in this beautiful African country on two separate visits that I took 10 years ago; both of which were centered on giving my time, my skillset and fundraising for the people in Tanzania. I worked closely with women and children who were directly affected by the underlying poverty and medical complications associated with HIV. I also worked closely with porters, who assist tourists in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, commonly referred to as “the rooftop of Africa”. After spending so much time in this vibrant country, I can guarantee that I received much more from the Tanzanian people than I could ever fathom giving back to them. I lived with a family, whom I now consider my own, I developed deep friendships with individuals who are still in my life today, I fell in love with an incredible person and I left knowing that one day, I will come back. On my departure to the airport, I rented a bus and 15 of my closest African family members and friends departed with me to the airport to say goodbye. We all cried outside the airport (African people do not cry in public) and it took me months to readjust back to my life in the states.

 I became very involved with the most incredible 13 children at a local orphanage in Arusha. Every week I would visit and play with the kiddos. I raised a few hundred dollars over Christmas and threw them a huge Christmas celebration with food, gifts, a cake and kitchen necessities. As I drove up with my Tanzanian family, each child was in his or her Sunday best and the Bibi and Babu prepared a huge African feast for me! They wrapped me around in this African blanket and gathered around me and sang songs to welcome me into their family, a tradition that is done at Tanzanian weddings. And to think I was giving THEM a Christmas. THEY gave me the most memorable Christmas of my life. 

I became very involved with the most incredible 13 children at a local orphanage in Arusha. Every week I would visit and play with the kiddos. I raised a few hundred dollars over Christmas and threw them a huge Christmas celebration with food, gifts, a cake and kitchen necessities. As I drove up with my Tanzanian family, each child was in his or her Sunday best and the Bibi and Babu prepared a huge African feast for me! They wrapped me around in this African blanket and gathered around me and sang songs to welcome me into their family, a tradition that is done at Tanzanian weddings. And to think I was giving THEM a Christmas. THEY gave me the most memorable Christmas of my life. 

 Orphanages can be boring! The 13 kiddos were always cooped up in a tiny building when they were not in school. I decided to rent a bus and take them all on a field trip to a wild animal park. My African mama and sister spent all night preparing home cooked lunches for 17 people (to surprise me) and as I showed up each kid was wearing a matching t-shirt. Literally the best day! 

Orphanages can be boring! The 13 kiddos were always cooped up in a tiny building when they were not in school. I decided to rent a bus and take them all on a field trip to a wild animal park. My African mama and sister spent all night preparing home cooked lunches for 17 people (to surprise me) and as I showed up each kid was wearing a matching t-shirt. Literally the best day! 

 On my very first trip to Tanzania, working in a very rural medical clinic. 

On my very first trip to Tanzania, working in a very rural medical clinic. 

 What I have up my sleeve

This past July, I called my brother (he is my voice of reason because I am impulsive) to tell him about my deep desire to return to East Africa while telling him my game plan of how I would live and work in Tanzania. I asked him if he thought I was crazy and if this idea should just be that; an idea with no action. He told me I should go. I made the decision to go back to this beloved country this winter because everything in my life aligned for this journey. I am moving out of my home in Laguna Beach, leaving my precious doggies with my mom and moving everything I own into storage so I can live in Tanzania for 3 months to reconnect with the country that still has my heart. I do not know where I am going to live upon my return to the states in 2019, but I know I will land somewhere amazing. 

It took me a couple of months to finally feel comfortable sharing with others about my decision of temporarily moving back to Africa and one of the first things everyone said to me was “what projects do you have up your sleeve?”

My answer was “none, I am going for myself”.

The outdoor industry and helping out porters

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my email history and an email chain from The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) popped up. I found this interesting since I am planning to hike Mt. Meru, Africa’s 4th tallest mountain that stands just under 15,000 feet above sea level, and I made a mental note to look into climbing companies that support porters’ rights. I am a huge advocate for porters’ rights and I spent the off-season in Tanzania teaching English to a group of porters during my last stay in Tanzania. I knew right away that KPAP and supporting porters was going to be “my project” for my upcoming trip. With my love for the outdoor community, my advocacy for porters’ rights, my desire to see a change among the corruption in Kilimanjaro expedition companies and my close ties to the outdoor industry; I knew I had to get my hands dirty in a project that can benefit the porters. So down the rabbit hole, I go! I am choosing to support KPAP by collecting new and used outdoor gear donations for the porters! 

My experience on Kilimanjaro

My first trek on Mt. Kilimanjaro 10 years ago I was devastated in regards to the treatment of the porters on the mountain. From wearing flip-flops, torn clothing and the lack of gloves and hats while carrying excessively heavy packs in freezing cold temperatures, high altitude, and challenging terrain, these porters were working under inhumane conditions for less than $10 a day. The daily wage for a porter as of 2017 is Tsh 20000/ $8.50 per day, but usually, operators pay a lot less, maybe half that. I remember seeing porters enter the gate and weigh their packs (each pack back then had to weigh under 40kg) in front of the guards only to walk several miles to past the guards and double up on packs while half of the porters were sent back down the mountain. This occurred so the safari companies would only have to pay half of the porters (while the other half were sent back down the mountain with zero wages) and pocket the rest of the money. Keep in mind each porter now had double the weight. I witnessed porters literally running up the mountain carrying gear on their backs, heads, and chest, while many other porters were helping transport sick or injured tourists on gurneys down the mountain. Porters make the majority of their money through tips, however, the general public is not properly informed on how much to tip each porter and as a result, tips are usually not up to par. Kilimanjaro porters are at the bottom of the food chain. A cutthroat price war rages on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and when budget operators cut corners to save money, the porters are the first to suffer. The trekking industry (in all developing countries, not just in Tanzania) is corrupt and broken. I became involved with KPAP immediately after my first experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I spent two months teaching some of the porters basic English so they could communicate with English speaking tourists, in hopes of gaining higher tips. Today porters have a lower weight restriction (around 25 kilos) and more awareness is being raised about their wages, tips, safety and climbing conditions but we still have so many oceans to cross. The other day my friend in Tanzania told me that women are now working as porters on the mountain and are wearing their Kitenge (typical African fabric) as mountain clothing. 

 One of the porters is wearing jeans....

One of the porters is wearing jeans....

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 Too much weight and not proper gear. 

Too much weight and not proper gear. 

 Too much weight and no gloves 

Too much weight and no gloves 

I need your help

As I return to Tanzania in November, I will be taking new and use donated outdoor clothing and hiking boots to give to KPAP so they can lend their porters' proper gear to help ensure their safety and comfort while tackling one of the hardest jobs in the world. Many females are now porters so female-outdoor clothing and boots are also needed. I am not only reaching out to my friends in the hiking community, but I am reaching out to outdoor brands who also want to help make a difference.

About KPAP

Established in 2003, the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is a legally registered Tanzanian not-for-profit organization. Our Mission is to improve the working conditions of the porters on Kilimanjaro. KPAP is not a porter membership organization, or a tour operating business, and we do not collect any fees from porters or climbing companies. 

KPAP is an initiative of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based out of Boulder, Colorado in the United States.Those who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro know that porters are the backbone of the trek. Many climbers may not realize that porters can be ill-equipped, poorly paid and have improper working conditions. KPAP’s focus is on improving the working conditions of the porters by:

  • Lending mountain clothing to porters free of charge
  • Advocating for fair wages and ethical treatment by all companies climbing Kilimanjaro
  • Encouraging climbers to select a climbing company with responsible treatment practices towards their crew
  • Providing educational opportunities to the mountain crew

Since 2003, KPAP’s work has had a tremendous impact for porters climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. These include:

  • Porters on over 32,500 climbs have borrowed KPAP’s mountain climbing gear free-of-charge
  • Over 7,000 porters climbing with Partner for Responsible Travel companies are ensured fair and ethical treatment every year
  • More than 16,000 mountain crew have participated with KPAP’s free educational and training classes in English, HIV/AIDS Awareness and Money Management
  • Through funding provided by the Tanzanian Foundation for Civil Society, KPAP has instructed 5,225 porters in classes on Porter Rights
  • 115 mountain crew have received Leave No Trace certification in environmental care of Mount Kilimanjaro
  • More than 1,320 mountain crew have been certified in First Aid and 69 porters and guides have been trained as First Aid Instructors and have gone on to conduct First Aid Certification courses for additional porters and mountain crew.

I cannot wait to see this project take off and bring joy to the porters of Kilimanjaro. 

I am truly hoping the outdoor community can come together because, without this outdoor community, this project will not be successful. 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 

-Winston Churchill