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I have been doing mountain hikes only for about two years now. I was never an “outdoorsy” person as a child, and the first hiking trip I took to Yosemite (about three hours away from where I live) wasn’t until I was 30. That trip for me was incredibly important and life-changing.

The Sierras took my breath away – literally. I really struggled on that first trip, but the beauty of it made me realize that I wanted to do more mountain hiking. I haven’t looked back since.

After hiking the highest mountain in the Lower 48, Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,505 feet), I began researching. I found that the tallest mountain in the country, Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley, located in Alaska) seemed inaccessible for me with its technical requirements. So I found myself looking into other mountains on the Seven Summits list. Kilimanjaro captured my attention almost immediately, but I couldn’t imagine going to Africa. Despite having traveled to Kuwait, China, Turkey, and multiple locations in Europe, I am actually deathly afraid of flying. I remember being 12 years old and hearing someone describe her journey to Africa and mentioning that it involved 24 hours on an airplane. Right then and there, I vowed that I would never go to Africa.b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0414.JPG

Still, though, the pictures of Kili beckoned me.

Then we saw a poster for Climb for Sight posted at our rock climbing gym. It seemed almost too perfect. Almost meant to be.

What particularly attracted me to Climb for Sight was their mission to provide sight-restoring surgeries to children in poor areas internationally. I was born with a rare eye condition (<2000 cases worldwide) that causes a build-up of an amino acid in the cornea; if left untreated, this build-up can cause blindness. But because I live in the United States, I am lucky to have access to quality treatment that I can afford.

For the past 10 years, I have been on hourly eye drops that preserve my sight and entirely eliminate painful symptoms. While it isn’t a cure, this treatment means that I don’t have to fear losing my ability to take in all the amazing scenery nature has to offer. It’s a pretty easy fix that I’m grateful for, and though I don’t even give putting drops in my eyes a second thought now, I know I can never take for granted what this treatment does for me.

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Reading about the children that Vision for the Poor treat really drove this point home. There are treatments that can preserve and restore sight, but which remain out of reach for children in poor areas of countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, and Tanzania. Like me, these children have an avoidable fate in terms of their vision – but unlike me, they do not have the means to prevent such fate.

I loved the idea of participating in a trip in which I would be able to visually appreciate the mountain scenery while at the same time ensuring that others would be given a chance to do the same in their own settings and adventures.b2ap3_thumbnail_vosh-4.05-44.JPG

It wasn’t until I actually clicked “purchase now” on the plane tickets that I knew it was really going to happen. In the months, weeks, and days leading up to the trip, all I could think about was the flight, and my preparation was more mental than anything else. I felt certain that the airplane was my mountain, and if I could conquer that part of the journey, I’d be golden for the rest. Kilimanjaro itself felt distant and easy compared to being in a plane.

Since I was already hiking in the mountains quite regularly, I didn’t change my lifestyle immensely in order to train or prepare for the climb. My family and I continued going to the Sierras when we could. We summited tall mountains until the weather made it impossible. (Though with our current California drought, we were able to summit Mt. Eddy in the winter.) We climbed regularly at the gym. I went on weekly short hikes on Saturday mornings.b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0003.JPG

When we boarded our flight, it all became real. (The flight, by the way, was very smooth and uneventful.) And when we started from the Marangu gate, the mountain finally became larger than life.

That first day, when we trekked from the gate to the Mandara huts, I felt slightly disheartened. I had read in various guidebooks that day one would be “deceptively easy”, yet I didn’t find it easy at all. While I had read that I should pack card games and expect to have lots of free time in the evening, in reality I felt like going to sleep right after dinner. Regardless, I made it through day one, and I knew I would make it through the rest as long as I didn’t allow my discouragement to take root.

On the day 2, when we hiked from Mandara to Horombo, I realized that I had made a mistake in taking my trekking poles. I had never used poles to hike before, and the new-to-me arm motion was creating pain between my shoulder blades. Along with breaking in your shoes before your hike, I highly recommend not doing anything for the first time on Kilimanjaro (except, of course, reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro!). While most people love using hiking poles, I happened to learn that they just aren’t for me.

The trail between Mandara and Horombo provided breath-taking views of Kibo and Mawenzi. Kibo looked so far away – and yet, I knew I would be there in a matter of days! These views, along with the presence of my husband and mom, propelled me forward and enabled me to power through my biggest challenges – the cold being paramount among them. When we arrived at Kibo at the end of the third day, I crawled into my sleeping bag and fought to get warm. The fight was made so much easier by visions of the peak that awaited and the sight of my husband’s sleeping bag beside me.

Our group split up when it came to determining a summit strategy, with part of our group going a day early – leaving at 4:00a.m. – and the other taking the planned before-summit day of rest and doing the traditional midnight departure to take in the sunrise from Uhuru. I was part of the former group, and in hindsight I am very grateful for the guides’ wisdom in making this adjustment – I felt fine with the altitude before the summit bid and didn’t feel the need for an acclimatization day, but I definitely needed the post-summit rest that came while the other half of our group was on its way up.

Standing atop Kilimanjaro and looking out into the crater made the journey worth every step, every dollar, and every challenge. Knowing that the efforts I had put for for my trip also aided children needing eye surgery was also fundamental to the experience. Letting friends, coworkers, and even my students be involved in the trip by donating funds made it truly feel like a team effort. (I’m a teacher at a K-8 school, and the students and parents held a bake sale to help support Vision for the Poor in honor of my trek.)

My advice for future climbers is twofold: one, know yourself and your limitations. Do you get cold easily? This was a big one for me. If it is for you, then don’t skimp on your cold-weather gear. Go for warmest gloves on the market. It’ll be worth it, I promise. Do you get bored with monotonous night-time hiking? (We did a Half Dome hike in which we left at midnight and hiked 5000 feet up through the night, arriving at the top in time for sunrise, to prepare for summit day on Kilimanjaro.) Hiking at night requires an entirely different set of muscles – mental and psychological ones. If you are concerned about boredom creeping in above 15,000 feet – with an approximately 4,000-foot elevation gain – when you are likely to be too winded to talk with fellow hikers, invest in a solar charger for your phone or iPod and download audio books.

My second piece of advice is to know that you can do it. It will be a challenge; if you are not accustomed to this level of physical activity, it will easily be the most difficult thing you have ever done. But with preparation and determination, you will do it. Don’t give up. It may sound a bit cliché, but if I can do it, anyone can.

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Those who climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with Climb for Sight raise money through seeking sponsorships. All of the money raised is used to treat children at our clinics in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti. Here is a short story from our clinic in Cap Haitian that came through last month.

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Seven year old Carl was hit in the right eye by a rock thrown by another child at school. He was immediately rushed to a hospital, and his eye was removed. Carl and his family were devastated by the loss, and Carl felt embarrassed and would not return to school for fear of being ridiculed by his classmates. His family felt helpless. They could not afford a prosthesis that, while not restoring his vision in his right eye, would at least make Carl feel more comfortable.

Carl's family learned of Vision for the Poor's social service eye hospital in Cap Haitian that provides services on a sliding scale based on family income. At the hospital, Carl was fitted and given a prosthetic eye free of cost and he is now back at school.

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Thanks to funds raised through Climb for Sight, we are able to provide these services to children who deserve to walk through life healthy and happy, regardless of their financial circumstances.

 

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At Vision for the Poor, we believe that every individual, no matter how old, how young, or how wealthy, has the right to enjoy the gift of sight that allows all of us to navigate the world upon which we trod, to soak in the loving gaze of our family and dear friends, and to witness the beauty of our natural surroundings. Some are born without that right, and too many of those cases go untreated, resulting in an individual who must face a life of blindness.

In Guatemala alone, 5,000 children are in need of sight-saving surgery, but most go untreated due to a lack of affordable, quality care. Here is a recent story of a child that was treated at the Visualiza eye clinic, established by Vision for the Poor, in Guatemala City.

On December 17th, a family of three walked through the doors at the Visualiza eye clinic in Guatemala City, Guatemala where Guatemalan eye doctors perform eye surgeries at low cost or for free, depending upon each patient's financial needs. Patients are not turned away for lack of money.

Guided by his parents was Felix, 5 years old; he was clearly unable to guide himself, and his gaze was distant and unfocused. Felix's father explained that when his son was just 8 months old, he and his wife noticed that their child's eyes looked milky white. They had taken him to a hospital and were told that Felix was suffering from bilateral congenital cataracts. He was blind in both eyes. The family supported three other children, and were unable to pay for the care their son needed. So they went home, distraught and sad about not being able to provide sight for their child. Throughout the next several years, Felix was in and out of the hospital for injuries he acquired from falling and bumping into things.

Five years later, the family heard about the Visualiza eye clinic where surgeries and eye care are provided at affordable prices for all. On the same day they walked into the clinic, Felix received surgery to remove his cataracts. Immediately after surgery he looked around at the people looking over him and said to his mother, Maria, “Mommy, there are so many people here.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_4040.JPG“He is seeing!” She proclaimed. “God bless you. Thank you.”

Funds raised for Climb for Sight allow these surgeries to take place. Participants in Climb for Sight couple an adventure of a lifetime to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, with providing an amazing service to those in need. Through sponsorships, climbers raise between $3,000 and $10,000, all of which is donated to our social service clinics in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti to provide free surgeries for children under the age of 14. 

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We could not do what we do without the generous support of our climbers, those who sponsor climbers, and our kind donors who contribute to the building of our clinics which become sustainable within 3 years of establishment.

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So Maria's Thank you and God Bless can be extended to all of those who support us and decide to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with the intention of giving the gift of sight.

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This is a guest post from Lindsay Yost who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2011 with Climb for Sight. Lindsay writes about some of her experiences leading up to the climb. She reflects on the importance of photography, and on the flip side, of the importance of setting down her camera to soak in the moments that can't be captured through the eye of a lens.

 

Jambo!

As a photographer. I have been in heaven these last few days. I have been jumping from one side of our Safari jeep to the next, elbowing people, and shouting at our guide to slow down or stop. I have been crazed by composing the perfect picture.

We have seen elephants...

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 lions...

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baboons..

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monkeys, cheetahs, and rhinos, just to name a few. I have hundreds of zebra photos, a series of lion photos, and close upb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0328.JPG of an elephant. I have snapshots of Elaura and I at fancy dinners. And we even visited a Masai village where I was able to take portraits of children, families, and a kindergarten class. However, these images don't begin to explain what we have really seen here in just a few days. They don't show the humility we have learned, the compassion we feel, the laughter, and even the tears that were shed at a sacred welcoming ceremony in the Masai village... yes, we are Fishes.

There are times that I must just set my camera aside and not be trapped behind a viewfinder. There are images I see that a camera can't capture. We see children playing in the streets with old tires, little girls carrying buckets of water on their heads, and their mothers carrying banana bundles or piles of sticks. Today we even saw a man walking down the street naked. On our safari we watched a cheetah chase and kill a Thompson Antelope in just a matter of minutes.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0421.JPGThe final photo of the day was our first glimpse at the mysterious summit of Kilimanjaro. The snow covered peak was visible above the clouds that commonly hide it. It looked as though the top third of the mountain was just floating above the clouds. A daunting but inspiring view. But as Elaura says, the mountain is welcoming us and we are ready!

 

Send us your good juju, prayers of strength, and endurance. And if you have extra juju ask for no vomiting and minimal medical side effects for the prescription drugs that are already making my hands and feet tingle...

Love, Lindsay (and Elaura)

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This is a story typical of those we encounter at the Visualiza clinics in Guatemala where Drs. Mariano Yee and Nicolas Yee perform surgeries that save sight for people who, before Visualiza was established, could not afford quality eye care. Funds raised by Climb for Sight participants directly fund procedures like the one Henry received.

Henry is one year and seven months old. Overall, he's a happy little boy who delights in playing with his older sister, although life has been hard for the family since Henry's father left his mother, Maria Eugenia over a year ago.

Maria Eugenia is a good friend of Irene who works at the Visualiza clinic. One day when Irene was over at Maria Eugenia's house, she noticed that Henry had a bump on his eye. She lifted his eyelid to find a large tumor-like growth that was causing his eyelid to bulge.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3963.JPG Irene asked Maria Eugenia what had happened to her son. She replied that it had started when Henry was just 8 months old. She had taken him to the doctor who said it was a tumor. She worried about it every day, but confessed that she couldn't afford to do anything about it.

Children under the age of 14 receive free eye care at the Visualiza eye clinic. So after some convincing, Maria Eugenia agreed to bring Henry into the clinic.

At the clinic, Henry was diagnosed with granuloma which is not a tumor but inflammation of the tissue that has many possible causes like infection or the presence of small foreign matter. Dr. Nicolas Yee removed the granuloma and Maria Eugenia took her son home, satisfied and without reason to continue to worry Henry's eye.

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