If you’d told me 18 months ago that I’d be climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, I’d say that you were out of your mind! But after a chat with School for Life founder, Annabelle, I found myself signing up to climb Africa’s highest freestanding mountain as part of their 2018 trip.
A bumpy start (delayed flights, missed transfers, ATMs eating my credit card) meant we were going to begin our climb a day later. This was the first test of our resilience, and from that moment I knew I was with an epic bunch of 16 humans who were able to not only provide support in testing situations, but could find humour as well.
We arrived at the gates and met our guides and crew - totally blown away that we had a support crew of 60 men! These guys would carry our gear, food, tents, tables, chairs and camper toilets (I could not have been more grateful for this little bit of luxury!). We also had doctors who checked our oxygen saturation and blood pressure twice daily and camp masters making sure we were comfortable. These guys were our angels, filling us with song and dance whenever our spirits waned. They were the kindest and most generous men I have ever met.
Each morning we’d wake for sunrise, and it was here that we really noticed our increase of elevation. Waking up and seeing the clouds below us and the top of Mt Kilimanjaro was when things got real. The days were long but the heartfelt conversations and laughs helped pass the time quickly.
The first few days felt really good. Our guides would set the pace pole, pole (slowly, slowly) and it was only if we raced ahead of this that I felt short of breath. In terms of altitude sickness, I got a slight headache on day four and this increased to what felt like my brain was getting too big for my skull. I kept hydrated and eventually this passed.
On summit day we woke at 2.45am, to what felt like -20C, layered up and prepared to begin. Once we were ready to go, the summit crew, guides and our team stood in a circle hand in hand. Our guide and mountain guru Genes lead the pre-summit prayer to acknowledge the power and spirit of Mt Kilimanjaro, and to guide us safely to summit and return. We were unified; excited and ready… It was on!
The next 8 hours were physically and mentally demanding. We zig zagged and climbed at an incline I’d never experienced before. There were moments I questioned my life decisions and would have been totally ok to stop. It was in those moments I reminded myself why I was here. The money raised would go towards education and improving the quality of life of so many kids. It was bigger than me, and it was time to dig deep. My mantra for the climb was ‘One foot in front of the other, one breath and then the next’.
With the support of my fellow climbers and crew I knew I had it in me for the final few hours. When we climbed over Gilman’s Point (the top of the mountain and final stop before Summit) I felt a rush of emotion - happiness, relief, accomplishment. We were at an elevation of 5685m and on top of the world.
There was snow and glaciers for as far as the eye could see and I was in awe of the beautiful landscape. This view and this feeling were worth every challenging step of the last 10 hours. After a short break we were ready for the final push to climb the extra 200m incline to Summit.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was the toughest, most incredible thing I have ever done. It tested me physically and mentally and it brought into my life a bunch of inspiring new friends. The biggest take away was the spirit of humanity.
With the help of so many people in the lead-up to the trek I was able to raise over $5600, and our group raised a total of over $116,000. People were so generous: donating time to help train me, lending me equipment, and donating skills, time and money for fundraising events.
My teammates were always there with good humour and support. The porters were endless in their smiles and encouragement, reminding us to find joy in the simpler things in life.
Over the next two days we visited both Katuuso Primary and Mbazzi Primary and Secondary schools.
As I stood in the grounds I was so proud of everything Annabelle and the School for Life Community had done. The schools were so much more than what I had expected; the quality of the grounds and the education were to the standard – if not better - than some of what I have seen back home. It was such a special experience to meet the kids, hear their stories and spend quality time with them.
We also visited some of the children’s homes and met their families. One father told us that when his daughters come home from school they taught him what they had learned that day, meaning his English and education has improved, too.
To visit the homes we walked through the community and saw new houses and shops being built. It was evident that people wanted to live close to the schools, so not only is School for Life providing education to the kids, but also creating demand for a more developed community, and more jobs.
Coming to Uganda was a perfect end to the Mt Kilimanjaro trip. I had spent months planning, fundraising, training and preparing to conquer this epic mountain, and to be honest some days got swept up in how much of a challenge it was for me. Meeting these kids was a beautiful dose of reality, a reminder of why I chose this kind of trip and how much someone else can benefit from a simple, kind gesture.
I have come home with a renewed appreciation of living simply, celebrating the little wins and the importance of giving back where you can.
My trip with School for Life will stay with me forever. I’ve made incredible memories, lifelong friends and can't wait to see what’s next.
Post written by our amazing supporter and guest blogger, Jess. Pictured below on the right next to her Kili team mate, Loren.
You too can have your own adventure of a lifetime! Join over 50 School for Life supporters who have already made the trek and summited Mount Kilimanjaro to provide children in rural Uganda with quality education and a brighter future.