Climbing Kilimanjaro for Israeli children with disabilities

There are many paths to charity, but these intrepid hikers chose a difficult one: climbing the treacherous terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for disabled children.

By HAYAH GOLDLIST-EICHLER
September 14, 2015 18:24
Mount Kilimanjaro hiking

Hikers climb the treacherous terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for children with disabilities. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Having celebrated his 60th birthday by running a marathon, John Corre plans to celebrate his 70th birthday by joining a trek up to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in support of children with disabilities – although, he admits, he will actually be 71 at the time of the climb.

Corre is one of 30 people from around the world who will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this October to raise funds for Shalva – the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel.

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To prepare for the trek, Corre takes eight-hour walks on a daily basis. He says that he will have to carry only a day pack, as the climbers will be accompanied by a team of locals who are accustomed to the climb and will assist them with their large items.

Also accompanying the group will be cooks, a doctor and portable toilets.

Corre expresses excitement at spending Shabbat on the mountain, and says that the group will set up an eruv, or ritual enclosure, around the campsite so that religiously observant team members will be able to carry items on Shabbat (an act that is prohibited in a public space outside an eruv).

He has already doubled his fund-raising goal of NIS 30,000 and continues collecting funds for the cause.

Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania, is the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 meters above sea level. The team will start its trek in the rainforests of Lemosho Glades and head up to Kibo, the mountain’s towering, ice-capped peak.

It will take eight days to hike to the top, with the eighth day being particularly difficult, as it involves 1,295 m. of ascent and another 2,145 m. of descent and 12 to 15 hours of walking. The rest of the descent takes place the following day.

SHOSHANA BAKER is another member of the team climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Shalva. She is no stranger to charity sporting events, having run marathons to raise funds for a variety of causes.

“I’m sort of addicted to exercise,” she says of her marathon and triathlon experience. Due to that experience, her training regime has not altered much, but she mentions a need to break in her hiking boots.

Baker’s involvement in the climb began when a close family friend, who is involved with Shalva, sat next to her at an open-house event at a local high school.

“She slid her iPhone onto my lap, saying, ‘I think you want to take a look at this,’” she recalls.

Baker was immediately interested in the climb. “It looked like an amazing opportunity and challenge for an amazing cause.”

At first, she didn’t believe she would be able to participate; after speaking to her husband later that evening, the idea was put “on the back burner.”

Six months later, her husband surprised her by registering her for the climb.

“Actually I didn’t know much about Shalva before.

I’m learning a lot, and I hope to take my kids and my whole family for a tour of Shalva so we can better appreciate what I’m doing,” she says.

For Baker, there was an aspect to this challenge that was unlike previous marathon fund-raisers in which she had participated. “It’s become very trendy to get emails now from people who are doing extreme sporting-related events and raising money, but this is the first time I’ve seen something like this.”

A marathon is a fitness challenge, but climbing Mount Kilimanjaro goes beyond that, she explains.

“Clearly you have to be fit, but there’s a greater mental challenge in terms of coming out of your comfort zone and doing things you really wouldn’t [normally] do, and appreciating the small things that we sometimes take for granted.”

The idea of appreciating the small things resonates strongly with Baker, and she connects it with raising money specifically for Shalva, where the children are challenged with things we often consider so basic and take for granted.

To match the challenge of scaling the mountain, Baker devised a creative way to raise money for the challenge. Inspired by an article she had read on 2013 MasterChef winner Tom Franz and his wife, Dana, she invited them to her house to give a cooking class.

The story of Franz’s conversion to Judaism and how they had become an Orthodox family touched Baker.

Scouring the Internet for an email address, she sent a letter describing her goal and asked if Franz would be willing to teach a pro-bono cooking class as a donation to Shalva.

To her surprise, Franz and his wife expressed interest in the idea, and on learning more about the organization, they agreed to the proposal.

Early this month, Baker hosted a private cooking class at her house, led by Franz. All profits from the tickets to the exclusive event are going toward Baker’s fund-raising goals for Shalva.

“It’s really due to their tremendous generosity. They are so warm and open and giving, it’s just amazing,” she says.

The cooking class increased recognition of Shalva.

There are “new people who had never heard of them at all. That was the goal of the evening, to bring as much awareness to [Shalva] as possible.”

INSPIRATION FOR Rachel Illouz, another of the climbers, comes from a different place. A 45-year-old cancer survivor, she says that when she was going through treatments two years ago, “one of the things I was dreaming of saying to my kids was that when I get better I’m going to go climb a mountain.”

She had imagined a trek up a relatively modest Israeli mountain or perhaps one in England, but when she saw a Facebook advertisement for the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, she decided to investigate.

“I got very excited about it. I went to visit Shalva. It’s an amazing community, and I really fell in love with the place,” Illouz says.

She came home from her visit and told her children that she was going to climb the Tanzanian mountain.

To prepare for the trek, she has been walking a lot, despite the extreme summer heat.

“The real challenge, from what I understand, is dealing with the atmosphere,” she explains. The team’s route has about a 90-percent success rate for hikers finishing the trek.

Illouz also speaks of her excitement about an open-air Shabbat experience, predicting that “Kabbalat Shabbat [the prayer service welcoming Shabbat] underneath the stars on Kilimanjaro will be amazing.”

She notes that the Shabbat on the mountain coincides with The Shabbos Project, an international initiative to encourage Jews to keep one Shabbat a year. The project started in a Jewish community in South Africa in 2013 and enjoys popular success around the world.

In addition to her palpable excitement about the climb itself, Illouz is enthusiastic about Shalva and the services it provides for children with physical and mental challenges. She says there is not enough room for all the children who want to benefit from the services the organization offers in its current building in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, so Shalva is moving to a new, larger center near Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The funds the team raises will help the organization to complete the new structure and procure the equipment necessary to help the children. Among other things, Illouz points to the new center’s synagogue, which will enable children to take part in services and celebrate bar and bat mitzvas.

Shalva operates a range of services for children with physical and mental challenges, including art therapy, animal therapy, speech therapy and hydrotherapy.

The new National Children’s Center opening in Jerusalem will be the largest of its kind in the country, providing innovative programs seven days a week throughout the year. Planned facilities include a semi-Olympic sized pool, a therapeutic pool, a gymnasium and an auditorium – all designed to accommodate people with disabilities.

According to Shalva, 7% of the children born in Israel today are categorized as having special needs, and two-thirds of them do not receive proper treatment. The new center, the group says, will provide much-needed therapeutic solutions tailored to these infants, children, and teenagers from around the country.


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