I have spent the better part of my life seeking adventure through travel; interacting with different cultures, learning bits of new languages, seeking famous treks, and the places (or spots) you only find out about from the locals. I dream of mountains, epic vistas and the feeling that stirs the spirit when you conquer a summit, or reach new heights; no matter if it’s nearby or in faraway lands. With this inspiration I began to plan my first trip to Africa for February 2015 and quickly decided that Kilimanjaro would be the starting point.
First off, Kilimanjaro is a mountain for everyone. On the trail you will find people from every country of all ages, shapes and sizes! After 1991, the National Park made it compulsory for hikers to use a licensed guide to climb Kilimanjaro. For the adventure traveller, it may be fun to imagine a solo trek, but keep in mind you are supporting a desperate local economy. It was hard for me to imagine having someone else carry my gear up a mountain, but not wanting to take a job from a porter, I compromised and we split it up. The porters and guides on this mountain have an immensely physically challenging and courageous career, sometimes running the routes as many as 2-4 times per month! I can guarantee you will not be unimpressed when you witness the loads they carry. I hope this image inspires you to pack light!
What I also found to be impressive was the one woman who was working as porter on my trek. Women in Tanzania face many cultural barriers in pursuing higher education and independent careers. It was a surprise to find out there were a handful of women working the mountain! This left a lasting impression and I began to ask; how many women porters are there? How many women guides? The response varied, and when I came back to settle in Moshi, I began to seek answers. There is an estimated 30 female porters operating on the South side of Kilimanjaro, compared to estimates of over 400 men. That being said, only four of the women working Kilimanjaro are operating as licensed guides. This inspired me to develop a plan that would assist local women in elevating their socioeconomic status and education. The discrepancy in pay between a porter and a guide is significant, as is the physical toll and academic knowledge required.
Together, with Nyange Adventures, a local tour company who is respected throughout the region for fair employment practices and social outreach, we have formed the non-profit, Foundation for Advancement of Women on Kilimanjaro. The primary function of F.A.W.K. is to identify and interview candidates, provide quality mountaineering gear, and fundraise to pay for the cost of necessary training and licensing. Owner of Nyange Adventures, Ombeni Nyange, is offering mentorship under his staff of skilled and socially adept guides, providing the tutelage required to be successful. The staff at Nyange is unprecedented in service and camaraderie. The excitement around this effort has created a buzz for everyone involved! In addition, we have partnered with Gill Carter, Director of African Impact, an invaluable resource who has offered free English classes, tutoring, and support through a local women’s professional group.
We have completed the interview process and selected our first young woman in training, Jessica Peter!
At just 16 years old, Jessica visited Lake Manyara National Park on a school trip, and her eye happened to catch one of the few female guides operating in Tanzania. Never before had she considered a career in guiding as a feasible option but through this encounter she became inspired to further her studies at a local college. Jessica was extremely blessed, her mother and brother supported her dreams and funded her education. She successfully completed her course in tourism and guiding with high hopes to gain experience on Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, there are soaring unemployment rates and many local companies do not adhere to fair hiring practices for women. Jessica has been boldly applying for positions as a porter and has been routinely overlooked.
When we met with Jessica her words cemented the motivation behind this project, she said ‘before I was just surviving in the dark, and now there is light’. We hope through this joint effort, our Foundation for Advancement of Women on Kilimanjaro will bring light over the mountain now, and many more times to come.
Jessica speaks basic English and is currently attending classes with African Impact 4 days per week to sharpen her skills. The training required by Kilimanjaro National Park begins next month and we have already guaranteed to fund the registration and licensing fee. We hope that she will be the next guide to catch the eye of a young girl and spark the inspiration to pursue advanced studies. We believe this message will resonate many generations to come.
We invite you to donate to our indiegogo campaign HERE.
Asante sana, with your help we can change to lives of women working Mount Kilimanjaro, one woman at a time.