CAIRO: On Sept. 12, a group of 25 young people will take on the challenge of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro over the course of seven days in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the Right to Live Association. They have dubbed their initiative the Right to Climb.
The Right to Live Association is based in Cairo, and for the past 28 years has worked with people with mental disabilities. The association’s efforts are singular in certain respects: they are the only institution to work with both young infants aged zero to six years and adults with mental disabilities. The Right to Live Association was the first private institution of its kind, acting as a nonprofit and relying solely on donations.
But for a minute let’s consider the motley crew of climbers who have committed to the physically arduous task of summiting the highest mountain peak in Africa: 13 men and 12 women ages ranging from 23 years to 42, bright young adults who have banded in a short time period to promote the cause, most of whom did not know one another before signing on for the challenge.
All of the climbers are professionals from various fields and industries within Egypt; most of the climbers are Egyptian with a few foreign expatriates in the group. They have each signed on to individually raise LE 20,000 through friends and personal contacts for the Right to Live Association in addition to paying $3,600 for their climb’s various expenses, a cost which they will be paying for personally.
“Many of us thrive on adventure, many of us donate time and money for charitable causes but few ever get to combine the two in one amazing act,” says climber Mohamed Shehata. Such sentiment has been expressed by many of the other climbers.
“I started the Toy Run for Orphanages charity where I distribute used toys to orphanages all around Cairo. So I am definitely a firm believer in the need to give back to our community. I also have a mentally handicapped nine-year-old sister, so this particular cause is very close to my heart. I believe climbing Kilimanjaro is the answer to my insatiable need for adventure and the fact that it’s tied to charity makes this initiative the direct product of me willing [change] into existence,” says 28-year-old climber Marwa Fayed.
“A lot of people ask what’s the link between charity and climbing mountains: it’s way more powerful than simply raising money, but creating awareness for the cause. While people are going through this process, people become attached to the cause and start to really believe in it and they become forever ambassadors for the cause. They will speak to a lot of people [throughout] their entire lives,” said Omar Samra.
After Samra became the first Egyptian to summit Everest, a new found curiosity and interest in mountain climbing started to grow in Egypt. The climb is being led by Samra and his partner Adel Abdel Ghafar, who have co-founded Wild Guanabana; an adventure travel agency that tailors travel packages to exotic destinations for those seeking novel travel experiences. It is the first time that the trip will take on a fundraising element.
“We thought about many different causes and this one really stuck out because there’s a huge amount of disparity of facilities, services and institutions that take care of people that are mentally challenged in Egypt, and the sheer numbers of people with disabilities that exist is horrific,” said Samra.
All organizations in Egypt take in children from the ages of six to 21 only. Not only does the Right to Live Association have a specific program to care for children aged zero to six years, a phase which they call early intervention, critical for the improvement of the children later on, but they also have programs for people over 21.
“The association’s involvement is two-fold, they work not only with the kids but they work with the parents because there’s a whole stigma around mental disability in Egypt, even [amongst] privileged families sometimes. In rural areas it is a ‘aar,” explained Samra, using the Arabic word to mean shame.
“But here it’s a question of acceptance, some parents are not willing to accept that there’s something wrong with their kids and insist on taking them to normal schools and putting them on the normal track and actually kids suffer because they need to be taught in a different way. It’s like a dyslexic student being placed in a class without anyone to tell him,” he added.
The association’s program encompasses a variety of rehabilitation programs including vocational training that places people in work programs across the country, helping them to integrate into society and a workplace that is suitable for them. The association then also monitors them to ensure that they are doing well and not being taken advantage of.
“Ten years ago they adopted a policy which is ‘we’re here to serve the entire community’ so they’ve been training teachers who have [moved on] and work elsewhere, some of whom are now advising government officials on children with special needs to help lobby for and change policies on the rights for mentally handicapped people: rights in terms of inheritance, rights in the workplace, but of course there’s a lot more work and rights that they [lobby] for,” he said.
“They do a lot of great work but unfortunately not a lot of people know about the depth and extremity of the work. So we’re trying to not only raise funds for them but also raise the awareness aspect for them and that’s why we’ve even sought celebrity endorsement and gotten Yousra on board as our cause ambassador,” Samra added.
During the climb, supporters will be able to monitor the climbers’ progress via regular updates and live feeds during The Big Drive Home show on 104.2 Nile FM, who are helping sponsor the awareness campaign. Other sponsors who have climbed on board include Pepsi, Vodafone, Turath, Community Times and EgyptAir. As-Salam International Hospital Maadi is the initiative’s platinum sponsor.
So far, not all climbers have been able to reach their target of raising LE 20,000, but the climbers are hopeful seeing as they still have two weeks to go before the climb.
One of the climbers, in an effort to encourage his fellow team members, has pledged to match the LE 20,000 raised by each climber should they successfully get to the mountain’s summit. This could translate into a generous donation greatly helping the Right to Live Association, which has suffered recently from a dip in donations and funding.
Samra is hoping that this climb will help get attention for Wild Guanabana’s ability to create specific travel packages for climbers, to see that the necessary infrastructure is already in place and that their travel needs can be easily tailored and planned.
“We hope this is not a one off initiative, we hope to do this again, one of the messages we’re trying to send is you don’t have to be big and profitable to do good. We’re still in start up mode, but we’re trying to do our bit,” he said.
“Also we’re very big on the environment as a company. A unique thing about this climb is that it’s going to be carbon neutral, we’re going to be offsetting all carbon emissions emitted throughout this entire trip whether it’s from our flights to transportation on the ground. We’re investing all the money gathered into sustainable projects in Egypt, and we’re currently looking at projects now for consideration.”
For more information contact Abeer Khamis, resource development coordinator at the Right to Live Association. Tel: +2 (02) 2266 1271 or 010 165 0957 or visit their Facebook group The Right to Climb.
Donations to the Right to Live Association can be directly deposited into account number 001290980 for funds in Egyptian Pounds or 001290980-110 for funds in US dollars at the Nadi El Shams Branch of HSBC, Cairo, Egypt.
For more information on the Right to Live Association, visit www.righttolivecairo.org or call: +2 (02) 2266 1271, or 012 398 9312.
For more information about WildGuanabana, visit www.wildguanabana.com.
Samira Magdy having been taught embroidery as part of the program at the Right to Live Association, works on creating beautiful pieces that are oftentimes sold.