By Rasha Dewedar
CAIRO: Egyptian youth are putting a face on positive change in action — and undoing stereotypes at the same time. This September, 26 Egyptian climbers succeeded in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as participants of The Right to Climb initiative, organized with the goal of raising support for children with special needs in Egypt.
Through their efforts, the climbers are challenging stereotypes about Arab and Muslim youth as people who are unable or unwilling to impact their world for the better. All too often, what we read in the media about Arab youth focuses on the lack of opportunities they have for employment, education or, it sometimes seems, hope.
These are real, daunting challenges, but there are also stories, like those of the climbers, about what youth are doing to make the world a better place.
The excursion, led by Omar Samra, the youngest Arab to climb Mount Everest, as well as a three-time Kilimanjaro summiteer, was a joint effort between the travel company Wild Guanabana and the Right to Live Association (RTLA), a non-profit charity that provides care and training to persons with special needs in Egypt. With the slogan, “We aren’t disabled, we are differently abled,” the RTLA aims to help those children and their families lead normal lives. This includes providing vocational training to give them chances for better working opportunities and a stable income.
Samra, a well-known Egyptian mountaineer, founded Wild Guanabana as a unique travel agency: it takes Egyptians on life-changing journeys during which they encounter new and challenging experiences that push them to their limits and allow them to discover themselves.
While Egyptians comprised the majority of the 26 climbers who reached the Kilimanjaro summit, one Lebanese, two Americans and two Nepalese also joined in the journey. The group was also diverse in the number of religions represented, including Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, as well as a significant number of women.
The trip, which lasted about seven days, was featured in many media outlets as a unique and life-changing experience for the climbers. There was also a following for the group on Facebook and Twitter, as the climbers regularly posted comments about their progress from the mountain, and received much positive support in return.
Having two sisters with intellectual disabilities, Samra has been involved with children with special needs for years and has regularly volunteered at the RTLA. With the Right to Climb initiative, he attempted to raise both awareness and funds for the cause, shedding light on the work done by RTLA.
So far the climbers, all between 25 and 45 years of age, have succeeded in raising close to $175,000, but require the community’s support to reach that target.
Climbing for a cause is not totally new in the Arab world. Accompanied in 2009 by a Lebanese and a Moroccan, Samra climbed Morocco’s Toubkal Mountain, the highest summit in North Africa. They raised the Palestinian flag on the summit to direct the world’s attention to the situation in Gaza. Their climb was featured in many popular Arabic media outlets, as well as on blogs and social network sites.
Samra now has an ambitious plan of rallying a team of 12 Arabs to climb the highest mountains in every continent.
Ultimately, this climb was about more than the money raised, it was about the climbers’ journey and their efforts to create positive change. Similar initiatives originating from different parts of the world, in which participants join in the same activity for a particular cause would be a good platform for people from both East and West to create more opportunities where they can unite around a common goal.
Rasha Dewedar is an Egyptian journalist with a special interest in the Middle East, gender issues and science. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).