The volunteering challenge of a lifetime
When one of my coursemates asked me to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for global charity Childreach International, I knew I had to do it. Although I was a bit apprehensive about raising the necessary funding (we each needed £2,450 to do the challenge), I was adamant that I could, and would climb Mount Kili.
The Childreach International website had tips on how to fundraise and I used most of the ideas.
I did all sorts of fundraising. I did the obligatory bakesales, a pub quiz, a dance show at university, bucketshaking in the freezing cold, BBQs, wrote letters to companies and shops, and I campaigned on Facebook.
I fundraised £2,595 in four months. I think the fundraising in some aspect was harder than climbing Mount Kili. It was certainly more stressful. The amount of headaches, worry, sleepless nights I had from my extreme fundraising was immense but worth it as the money will be spent on improving hundreds of lives Collectively my group of 14 all hit the target and we raised about £35,000 between us.
Most charities let about 70% of the donated money go to the actual cause and the charity’s targeted projects and the rest is spent on running the charities. With Childreach International about 96% of the donated money went straight to projects all over the world.
Arriving in Africa
We flew from Heathrow to Nairobi in Kenya and then drove for two hours to arrive in Moshi in Tanzania at 7:30am.
Driving to the hotel made it clear how drastically different things in Africa are compared to at home. The road from the airport was concrete but then as we drove further out, it became dusty then bumpy, then rocky.
The landscape was so vast – so much dust and poverty. We saw people with no bikes or cars who had to walk for hours and hours to get to towns.
We visited Uwa High school during their school holidays. There were no lessons when we visited, but because the children had nothing to do at home, at least fifty pupils still turned up to play and learn. It was great as we got lots of one-on-one time with the children.
The classrooms looked brilliant. There were clean floors, big blackboards, beautiful drawings of flowers, the body, the solar system, maps of Africa, geographical things like the rain cycle, and animals and rainbows. We all played football, danced, and played drums.
We gave the school children 100,000 Tanzania Shillings (about £30 sterling) as a gift to spend on stationary. They were so grateful, and considering how little money people in Africa live on, it meant they didn’t have to worry about buying hundreds of pens, pencils, and books for a long time.
On our third day in Africa we started trekking! Our route, the Machame Route, took six days and started at Machame Gate. The first hill was incredibly steep. We were all excited and walked too fast, causing the porters to say ‘pole, pole!’ meaning ‘slowly’, otherwise we could get bad altitude sickness really fast.
When we reached Machame Huts camp, the tents were already set up for us. I will always be in awe of the porters. All we carry is a daysack with our water in and a few other essentials. But the porters on some days scaled peaks whilst balancing 15kg large rucksacks on their heads as well as all of our food. They work the whole week for just $10 (US) so they rely heavily on tipping to survive.
On the second day of trekking we did 5.3km, and reached a maximum height of 3,840m.
We trekked seven hours to the next night camp, Shira Caves. The toilets were painted bright colours but the doors had fallen off, so going to the toilet in the cold was not at the top of my list of fun things to do.
Everyone began taking anti-altitude sickness tablets (Diamox) that night. The sunset at Shira Caves was probably the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.
On the third day of trekking, we did 9.5km and reached a maximum height of 3,950m. After trekking for eight hours we reached Barranco Camp.
On our fourth day of trekking, we left Barranco Camp at 8am, and climbed ‘Breakfast Wall’ for a solid hour. It’s called Breakfast Wall for two reasons: you do
it after breakfast, and some groups throw up their breakfast as it’s that intense.
Reaching Barafu Hut Camp was great but conditions were extreme. We all put on many layers as it dropped below freezing that evening. I wore eight top layers and five bottom layers, plus three pairs of socks, a scarf, hat, gloves, and buff. We set off to reach the 5,895m summit at 12:15am. It was almost like being blind. The headtorch only let me see about a foot in front of me. It was minus 15 degrees plus windchill, so it felt much colder.
Reaching the Summit
Summit night is the big push. If you haven’t dropped out by this point then the guides usually encourage you to get to the top. We zig-zagged for hours up what seemed like an endless hill with the icy wind hitting one side of our faces and then the other side as we changed direction up the rocky paths.
We reached Stella Point (the crater – 5,730m) at about 8am and then Ahuru Peak (5,895m) at 8:50am. Climbing up to Stella Point was unbelievable. The incline was about 75 degrees and we all had to stop to rest for oxygen after every 15 metres we climbed. Exhaustion doesn’t even cover the feeling that swamped my body. My arms, abs, neck, back, calves, butt and shoulders all ached.
It didn’t sink in that I’d reached the summit until I saw the sign saying ‘Congratulations you are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5,895m’. No matter how much dehyration, exhaustion and altitude sickness I suffered, I was proud that I hadn’t let my friends, family or myself down.
My lips were so incredibly sore after summit night. I had to pick mini stones and dust out of my lips and I had to use several facewipes to eradicate all the dust that blew into my face during the three hour descent from the summit.
My group arrived back at Barafu Camp at 12:30pm. Being welcomed back with a glass of orange juice and congratulated on reaching the summit (which only
60% of climbers achieve) was wonderful. On summit night I trekked for fifteen and a half hours.
On day five we woke up in Millennium Camp at 6:30am. The porters and the guides surprised us by singing and dancing to congratulate us on our achievement and as a thank you. We joined in with the dancing and were all so smiley but part of me felt sad that I’d not be sleeping and walking above the clouds for much longer.
After Kili, Exploring Africa
We all wanted to go to Zanzibar so we went to Dar Es Salam the next day. We ate out at a few restaurants and enjoyed having a glass of wine before we headed off to Zanzibar.
We caught an early ferry to Stonetown, Zanzibar’s biggest city. We haggled in the markets that were in a maze of tall, white, ancient buildings. We walked through the town at night, and saw a huge street food market with fires grilling seafood.
The next day we all split up into a few mini groups to venture off to visit spice trails, go snorkelling at Prison Island, and see giant tortoises in the north east of Zanzibar. My hotel had a restaurant outside with a bonfire, hammock, splendid rooms that were decorated for royalty and even a private beach. It was probably the best day in my life, lying on a beach bed in the Zanzibar sunshine, with white sand, stunning crystal blue sea, a light breeze and pampering. It was heaven.
We started our three-day safari the following day. We were picked up from our hotel in Moshi and went to Tarangire National Park. I saw zebras, elephants (including a few baby ones), warthogs, baboons, wildebeest, love birds, Baobab trees, giraffes, lions, lion cubs and an eagle. We stayed the night at a Haven Nature camp.
On day three of the safari we went to meet and hunt with Bushmen who live in a tribe an hour’s drive from the campsite. I learned that everyone in the tribe, from old grandparents and parents to the little babies all smoke weed and drink alcohol. The women buy beads from markets and make jewellery to sell to tourists and the young boys make bows and arrows to hunt with and they also sell them to make money.
We bought some arrows and jewellery before heading back home to Moshi. I thoroughly enjoyed my safari.
After a night in the hotel we went to Nairobi airport, went through about four security checks (no lie!) and eventually we arrived back in Heathrow.
I really hope to go back to Africa someday. Stonetown and north east Zanzibar would be amazing for a honeymoon, but I don’t think I’ll climb Mount Kilimanjaro again – unless they install a zip wire at the top to come down on!
For more information about volunteering in Africa, check out the following sites:
Agape Volunteers currently operates in Kenya, Masailand, Ghana, Tanzania and now India. Within each country there is a choice of up to six different programmes, including teaching, orphanage work, medical, HIV/AIDS work, sports, conservation and music placements.”
They say: “Our challenge events programme is one of the best out there, and our award winning fundraising team will be there every step of the way to ensure that you have the best possible support during both your fundraising for the trip, and when you’re out on your chosen challenge.”
They say: “Our short-term volunteering opportunities give you the chance to make a real difference by contributing to various community development and environmental activities in Madagascar for 2-10 weeks.”