I am, on what is Monday morning in the U.S., winging my way across the North Atlantic. Why one flies north from Dulles Airport in Virginia and then hugs the Canadian coastline in order to go south to Africa is still something of a mystery to me; even though I'm a student of aviation and quite aware that the world is round, it nevertheless seems odd that we've crossed Newfoundland and will overfly France in a looping arc to Ethiopia.
Right now we're closer to the Arctic Circle than the Equator, even though we're landing at Addis Ababa in a scant 11 hours or so. If I were flying this big Boeing, I'm pretty sure I would've pointed the nose southeast from the Chesapeake and landed once I saw elephants.
In Ethiopia, I change planes and head to Arusha, Tanzania. I'll take in a 3-day safari there, then head to the village of Arusha and embark on the main purpose of this trip: to climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world--Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Why? Not just "because it's there" or because it's on my bucket list (it is). Because, in making this climb, I'm going to help the people of an impoverished village in Tanzania receive something that will immediately improve their lives and enhance them for generations. Something that will relieve especially the women and children of an onerous daily task. Something that will provide immediate health benefits to roughly two-thousand people. Something they've never had yet I can enjoy every day, and because it's so accessible and abundant, I take it for granted: clean water.
They call it the "Blood, Sweat and Compassion" challenge climb. About twenty of us answered this particular challenge issued last spring by Compassion International, a Christian children's charity I've long supported, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A couple of decades ago, I was running through an airport on one of my globe trotting correspondent assignments when a child's face caught my eye. Sad but hopeful, mischievous but plaintive, so beautiful and yet so obviously mired in poverty. I stopped for a moment and stared at the brochure. I had so much. A great career. Two healthy, wonderful children (with two more coming down the road). It was one of those moments I'll always remember. "I'm worried about whether I'm going to make my connection in Chicago; she's worried about when she gets to eat again." I grabbed the flyer and put it in my bag to read on the plane. That's how I came to know Compassion--and the children my family and I have sponsored over the years since then.
Using our small monthly donation, Compassion--working through local churches of various denominations in the world's forgotten corners--would ensure that the child we sponsored had what we in the U.S. would consider the basics: pencils, a notebook, a pair of shoes. One I recall is named Jackline. She lives in a country where the government offers a grade-school education to all children at no cost, but in order to take advantage of it, Jackline was required to purchase a school uniform. Her family simply couldn't afford it. Compassion bought it for her--or maybe I can say we bought it for her--allowing Jackline to go to school. She was beyond delighted.
How do I know? Because she told us. Compassion encourages sponsors and children to have a pen-pal relationship; Jackline wasn't just a number on a file. We received letters from her on a regular basis, about her school, her family, her faith, her life. My kids read the letters and were astounded to learn how different and difficult her life was--a 2-hour round trip to fetch a bucket of water was part of her chores, for instance. For my four children, living easy lives in the affluence of America, her letters were eye-opening.
Now we're in the age of electronic communications, so this time it was an email that caught my eye. Compassion wondered whether I might want to sign onto this trip and in the process, commit to raising funds for the water system. The timing seemed perfect. The little kids who used to read Jackline's letters before bedtime are mostly out of the house now; my baby (!) is shopping for colleges. My most recent orthopedic surgery--my left foot--was pretty well healed, but I'd used the post-surgical downtime to become doughy. I needed a reason to start getting back in shape and climbing Kilimanjaro seemed like the perfect motivator.
Fox gave me the OK so I got back in the gym and began to train. If I was going to climb an almost-20-thousand-foot peak, I was going to climb it in the best shape of my life.
Oops. That's when I tore my rotator cuff. Again. The fourth time, actually--twice each side. I'm not sure how. Dr. Plancher, the surgeon who's made it his life's work to put me back together each time I break myself, warned that postponing surgery 'til after the climb--or making the climb without the repair--wouldn't be safe.
So in early June I laid on a table for four hours while he dug into my shoulder and repaired my torn cuff and biceps tendon. Six-weeks-in-a-sling later, I was back to trying to cram a bit of conditioning into the few pre-Kili weeks remaining.
By early August, with one of my brothers and most of our kids I was able to summit Grey's Peak In Colorado. The good news is, I made it to 14,270'. The bad news is, in my home state, Grey's is known as one of the easiest of The Fourteeners. Kilimanjaro rises a full mile higher, much higher than I've ever flown a single-engine airplane. Climbing to nearly four miles above sea level is going to be tough. Here's hoping--and praying--I'm up for the challenge.
If you agree that getting a drink of fresh, clean water shouldn't be an agonizing daily task, I hope you'll consider sponsoring my climb. You can read more about it and, if you're so moved, make a donation by clicking on this link:
Please know your donations go directly to the clean water project. I'm paying my own expenses for the trip and the climb. If we're able to raise more than we need to build the water system, the bonus funds will help fund leadership development programs serving Compassion's older and more mature children.
If you'd like to keep tabs I how we're progressing, you can check our daily progress on the "Rongai Route" via this link:
My flight is now approaching the coast of Belgium. My "Blood, Sweat and Compassion" climb begins Saturday, October 4th. Can't wait to get started. Thank you for your support!
- Jon Scott