I never thought my life would come to depend on a bag of neon-colored sour worms and Cheez-Its. At 5,895 meters on the top of Kilimanjaro, having not eaten in two days, with no appetite (aside from the aforementioned snacks), frozen extremities, and half out of my mind, I had to ask myself, “HOW DID I END UP HERE?”
When I got the travel bug eight years ago it was an instant obsession. Understanding the world in a way that I never dreamt I could, it was a discovery of sorts that rendered me speechless. ”THERE’S A WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE!”, was often an expression I wanted to shout to friends and family who had never traveled abroad. Like most travelers, when I returned from my first international experience I was already planning the next. This cycle would continue for years to come, and has ultimately led me to where I am today.
GIVING BACK THROUGH TRAVEL
Everyone defines travel differently. To me, it has always been to understand the local culture on a very personal level so to better understand myself and point of view in this world. During one of my first international experiences at a summer internship in Phnom Penh, Cambodia I had a true epiphany, “Wow! There are so many people in this world who grew up worlds a part from me, yet somehow our souls connect.” I realized then and there how incredibly fortunate I was to have grown up in the family, country, and circumstances I did, but I also realized how travel was going to become something very different for me from this point forward.
If I was going to be traveling to countries and visiting local communities anyway, why couldn’t my visit benefit someone or something locally? I started thinking, “I don’t have to always take away, rather, travel could be the absolute PERFECT opportunity to give back.”
Ultimately, this philosophy would lead me to take on a challenge that would significantly change the course of my life. In February 2013, together with nine other women, I took on the challenge of hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. Kili was always on the bucket list, and from the beginning it was obvious how local integration would play a huge part in the experience. In the planning of Kilimanjaro, the group of women hikers and I decided we needed something big to get us through the hurdles of this mountain. Everyone we talked to who had done Kili prior urged us to keep remembering WHY we are doing it, and we knew this would be critical in the darkest hours of the climb (and by darkest I mean that figuratively and literally as the ascent to Uhuru Peak happens from midnight-6am.)
WOMEN HIGH ON ADVENTURE COMES TO LIFE
As fate would have it, we found an incredible women’s school called Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA) that was looking to develop and expand educational programs for women. They are located in Moshi, which is situated at the base of Kili. GHTA teaches women vocations that allow them to apply the skills learned to their local markets and communities, ultimately ending the cycle of poverty for them and their families. In leading up to Kili, we started a fundraising campaign for GHTA with a goal of $5,000 to support their educational programs. We reached our goal on the morning we reached the summit, and as supporters and fellow trekkers advised, in the darkest hours of that hike, remembering the women we were trekking for truly was what got us through the ascent up to the roof of Africa.
The challenge of Kili was great, but the local impact and what came after was even greater. The model of women taking on high adventures, fulfilling pipe dreams, all while giving back has motivated two Kili trekkers, myself and Danielle Thornton, to found a company that makes high adventure accessible to women. The mission is to provide a supportive community for women to adventure with all while giving back to and connecting with local women in the communities we visit. WHOA travel (Women High On Adventure) is now modeling adventures around the world in the Kilimanjaro style, and it is proving to change the world one woman at a time. We believe together we can do more than climb mountains…We can MOVE them!
I found myself on the roof of Africa for second time last month, again with frozen extremities, no appetite, and only craving Cheez-its and neon-colored sour worms, but this time I KNEW how I ended up here.