The journey that started the KBT: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
The only thing we saw for three hours of flight was desert beneath us as we flew from Amsterdam to Arusha. How could a mountain as tall and large as Kilimanjaro protrude from this landscape? We knew we were in for an adventure all along; how many people get to climb one of the world’s highest mountains with a group of eight resilient and inspiring sight-impaired and blind people? But once we arrived and saw Kilimanjaro for the first time, the scale and size of the mountain signaled a more obvious aspect to the adventure; the physical challenge that was soon to come.
The whole team united on the first day, and it was clear from the start that Erik Weihenmayer had pulled together a fabulous team of people from various corners of his life. We immediately bonded with a sense of purpose; knowing that we were all there to climb higher than we had ever climbed before – together as a group.
The first day of our climb took us through several distinct ecological zones. Christian noted in his journal: “A lot has happened during the first few days; we’ve gone from a moderately warm tropical rainforest to a wooded zone, through heather fields, into a semi-arid zone, and are now waiting for lunch in a barren landscape marked by giant boulders, filled with dry air, and dotted with dead shrubs.” The first day also served as a learning seminar for how to communicate between the sighted and the blind. Distinct methods emerged as people chose their style of choice; whether guiding by walking stick, bells, or through clear verbal instructions.
Our journey began and ended before our team’s remarkable accomplishment had even started to sink in. Our summit day had comprised of 18 hours of hiking, 13,200 feet of elevation gain and loss (net) from base camp to the top, then down to our final campsite before hiking out. It was challenging for all – in various different ways – but almost the entire team made it to the top, making for the largest group of blind people to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, ever. “We’re tough after Kilimanjaro” Christian noted a few days later while reflecting on the trip.
But little did we know, the real journey began after the climb ended. In the days that followed the climb the group visited local blind schools in the region surrounding Kilimanjaro to connect with blind children, share our story, hear their story, and bring much needed supplies and materials. It was there, after seeing the bright smiles of children receiving their first walking cane or talking watch, that the inspiration behind the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust was born. The experiences provided first-hand insight into the pressing need for better educational resources for blind and visually impaired children in East Africa, and from these visits emerged the concept of a trust to help provide better support for the education of blind and visually impaired children in East Africa, with literacy at its core. After much discussion with on-the-ground educators, local NGOs and Perkins School for the Blind, the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust decided to focus on where it could make the biggest impact: helping all of Africa’s blind children have access to Braille and Braille education throughout their schooling.
In December of 2006, the KBT was finally officially chartered, and today is a non-profit entity registered in the USA and the United Kingdom. Beyond start-up funds, most operating funds have been raised on a continual basis through public fundraising efforts, direct donations from individuals or corporations, from bank interest or investment return, and other sources. We are eternally grateful for all of the generous support from Kilimanjaro Blind Trust’s many friends who allow us to fulfill our mission on a daily basis. Please consider supporting the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust today!
All projects funded by Kilimanjaro Blind Trust are overseen by the KBT Board of Directors who ensure accountability to our donors through regular audits, carried out by professional auditing firms. Please feel free to reach out with any questions!