Conquering Kilimanjaro to END the Neglect

Feb 05, 2016

by: Abbey Turtinen, Associate, External Relations

Last week I took to Central Park for my first run of the New Year. While this will be one of many for 2016, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic to this time last year when I started to train for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Summiting Kilimanjaro had always been at the top of my bucket list and last July I had the wonderful opportunity to not only climb, but to do so on behalf of a cause that I care about deeply. I joined 15 other hikers for the 2015 Summit to See the END with the goal to reach the summit while simultaneously raising awareness and funds for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). 

Abbey (right) and Carlie Congdon enjoying the view on day two of their climb to the summit.

We climbed for seven days through five different climate zones - from the humid rainforest to the ice-capped peak. While I don’t miss the instant Nescafé coffee that became a staple through out the journey, I do still long for those early evenings watching the sunset, hot chocolate in hand with no distractions except for conversations with my fellow climbers. 

On summit night we began climbing at midnight. I was wearing three fleece layers under my bright blue ski jacket to begin the last part of the trek. Not knowing what to expect in the cold hours ahead, we began climbing through the dark with only our headlamps for guidance. It was hard to tell where the trail of light stopped and the endless cascade of stars began. 

We reached the top just after the most breath taking red and orange sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. At first sight of the congratulatory sign at the peak, I began to tear up while cheering and hugging my teammates - mostly with joy, but in part from the high altitude. Reaching the summit and standing on the roof of Africa was a feeling of unparalleled accomplishment. The journey had been thrilling, exhausting, and so surreal and I was grateful for my teammates’ help in reaching the highest point on the Continent. 

END Fund Team at the Summit

Following the climb, our group traveled to a rural Tanzanian school for an NTD learning day. Greeted by children and teachers, we had the opportunity to learn about the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects, such as a locally made “tippy taps” for hand washing, as well as witnessing my first trichiasis surgery. Through a fifteen minute eye surgery that treats pain and prevents the patient suffering from blinding trachoma--one of the five most prevalent diseases on which the END Fund focuses--the skilled health care professional performed a life-changing surgery in a classroom without any electricity. An eye-opening experience (pun intended) to see our months of training and fundraising demonstrated right in front of us.

Beneficiaries from the previous year come back to explain how their lives have been positively impacted from trichiasis surgery.

The climb and the NTD learning day was a complementary experience of both challenging myself to complete a personal goal, but realizing my efforts were for a cause greater than myself.

Similarly, I feel we can tackle NTDs. Like summiting Kilimanjaro, it will take continued dedication, hard work, and collaboration - and maybe some sturdy, comfortable shoes. 

Want to join the 2016 climb? Conquer your personal goals, while helping to raise funds and awareness for people living with NTDs. 


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