From the slums of Nairobi to the summit of Africa

Every year, the KILIMANJARO INITIATIVE brings together people from around the world, including representatives of the public and private sectors and underprivileged African youth. As a team, they reach the summit of Africa to raise awareness about complex issues young people face in slums in East Africa and to highlight how, irrespective of social and economic backgrounds, we must all come together in creating healthier, safer and cleaner communities.

On 9 May 2003, armed robbers broke into Tim Challen’s rented accommodation in Nairobi, Kenya. They shot him just below the left knee - the bullet exploding in the leg and shattering the Fibula and Tibia bones before embedding itself in the calf muscle. After surgical operations in Nairobi, Challen was flown back home to Geneva, Switzerland, where he underwent further interventions. In December 2003, pins were finally removed from his leg - followed by a long period of rehabilitation. On 28 February 2006, having founded the Kilimanjaro Initiative, Challen and youth from Kenya and Tanzania reached the summit of Africa. 
Rapid urbanization, especially over the past 15 years, has led to a rise in informal settlements around the world. Consequently, there has been an increase in urban disparities in terms of income, access to public services, housing, education, health, and security. Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, has a population of approximately 1 million people.
Kibera residents live in shacks made of mud walls and corrugated tin roofs. With very few toilet facilities and waste collection services, filth and open sewage settles throughout the slum. Access to clean water is limited.
Currently, children and youth represent more than 50% of slum populations. Facing a future full of risks, young people in Kibera look for ways to occupy themselves and rise above an unhealthy and dangerous environment.
With an unemployment rate of 50%, disillusionment is a chronic symptom in Kibera - many finding solace in alcohol and drug consumption. This in turns leads to a number of social ills, such as violence, crime and rape.
Children and youth are especially vulnerable to exploitation, stigmatization, crime and victimization. In 2007, in partnership with the local community and authorities, Kilimanjaro Initiative started upgrading a sports field in Silanga village, Kibera. It has since provided a safe-haven for many young people.
Sport has the power to engage young people and channel their energies in a positive way. But more must be done to assist youth with their goals - helping them not only to find their footing, but also walking by their side until they find their way and become constructive members of their communities.
At 5,896 meters above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point on the African continent and the largest free standing mountain in the world. The mountain is at the origin of Kilimanjaro initiative, providing a ready metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges.
Since 2006, Kilimanjaro Initiative organizes an annual ascent to the summit of Africa using the ‘Marangu’ route. The climbers include young people from slums in East Africa and representatives of the private and public sectors. A participant from UNEP reads out a message of support sent by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. 
On the first day of the ascent, climbers leave the gates of Kilimanjaro National Park (1,800m) and meander through the rainforest for 5 hours until they reach Mandara Huts (2,727m).The protection of forests is essential as they regulate the water balance, prevent soil erosion, and provide high quality water for human populations.
During this year’s climb (28 February – 4 March 2009), 31 climbers were supported by 15 guides, 2 cooks and 45 porters – a total crew of 93 people. Effective logistics, bearing in mind the 5 day stay on the mountain, are paramount to the success of the climb.
Guides and porters, mainly from the local Wachagga tribe, carry over a ton of food and equipment up to Kibo Hut, the last refuge before the final ascent to the summit of Africa. As a sign of appreciation, Kilimanjaro Initiative not only tips its guides and porters, but also supports the Kilimanjaro Porters Association.
The 12 kilometer trek from Mandara to Horombo Huts takes climbers out of the forest into an alpine heath and moorland. After the excitement of setting off on the first day, climbers start focusing on the difficulties that appear ahead and take on a slow pace that will hopefully help them acclimatize on course to the summit.
Mount Kilimanjaro has two peaks – Kibo (the highest) and Mawenzi (to the right, at 5,149m). After weeks of anticipation, the climbers come face to face with the challenge that lies ahead - grand and inspiring, but also very daunting. As many will discover, anxiety can become an uneasy impediment on the mountain.
The huts of Horombo sit on a ridge below Mawenzi, at 3,720 meters. After laying down their gear and drinking hot cups of tea, most of the KI climbers go off on an ‘acclimatization’ walk. At this high altitude, the environment starts to take control on whether or not you will make it to the summit.
At 78 years of age, chief guide Emmanuel Menjah knows all too well the perils of Mount Kilimanjaro - he has climbed over 3,000 times. As a model of how the environment can directly provide for man, Chief Menjah (being filmed for a UNEP documentary) also exemplifies through his wisdom how one must show respect in return.

Mountains are vital water reserves for the lower lands, providing resource for agriculture, industry, food and hygiene. It is estimated that two out of every three people will live in water-stressed regions by the year 2025, not only leading to health and wealth issues but also to conflict over diminishing supplies.
A more considerate usage of our environment, at a political and consumer level, is essential to providing healthier, safer and cleaner communities. A lack of natural resources isn’t the problem - inadequate practices and waste are.
Climbers often find time to reflect on Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of their daily lives, especially those living in the slums, and allows one to ponder on the past, the present and the future.
Climbers take a pause half way between Horombo and Kibo Hut. Just a day earlier, the climbers woke up in a jungle, now they face a long arduous walk through dry lands to the foot of the crater – the walking is slower and the breathing tougher.
Surrounded by an increasingly difficult environment, with the effects of high altitude kicking-in, one is not only more aware of their very own condition but is also more conscious of those around.
More than ever in their history, humans have the means and power to set down a lasting footprint on this planet. Our greatest challenge is leaving behind a mark that will allow all those who follow to have a better and brighter future.
The elements on Mount Kilimanjaro are unpredictable. One minute the sun is shining and the next sees clouds emerging and hale blowing into the faces of climbers. Irrespective of changing conditions, the group remains focused on the path ahead. 
After an early dinner and rest (many could not sleep or eat), the group sets out at midnight to conquer Africa. In a cold night made worse by strong winds, the group advances. High altitude attacks all senses, rationality is compromised, and climbers dig deep within to find their way. 
The sun rises over Africa.
Having battled through the night, climbers make it onto the crater rim. It is a surreal environment, where scorched volcanic earth and walls of ice are hit by an incredibly bright sun. 
Uhuru Peak (5,896m) - 14 climbers make it to the summit, accompanied by their indispensable guides, and display the ‘Climb 2009’ banners on behalf of the Kilimanjaro Initiative team and its supporters.
One does not stay long at the top. It is an inhospitable place and climbers quickly turn their thoughts towards going back to where they came from. Before nightfall, climbers must reach Horombo Huts. For most climbers it will be the longest and hardest day of their lives, yet also the most fulfilling. 
As much as making it to the summit is a key goal, it is even more important that every member of the team comes back down alive and in good health.
The climb has created new bonds, provided unforgettable memories, and showed proof that anything is possible. With this spirit in mind, Kilimanjaro Initiative will continue to bring people together, making sure that the synergies it creates leave a positive and long lasting impression.
Kilimanjaro Initiative Team – Climb 2009 – ‘UNite to COMBAT Climate Change’
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