Kilimanjaro. Africa’s highest mountain. Wishing to raise money for health care and education for the children of Kenya, the sister and brother team of Veronica and Richard Smiley, in partnership with the March to the Top Foundation, climbed Kilimanjaro this past August, raising $25,000 in the process.
This is Part One in The Bloomsburg Daily’s Four Part series on Bloomsburg natives Ronnie and Rick. This initial installment tells of the inspiration and preparation for their climb.
The Bloomsburg Daily – What led you to the idea of climbing this mountain? Was it the challenge of doing it, the reward of who you might benefit, or a combination of both?
Veronica Smiley – I’d always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, since I was in college. A few years ago, I was looking into a job in global children’s health with non-profits supporting Africa. A couple years later, as luck would have it, the two interests would collide. I meet Barbara March [of the March to the Top Foundation] at a girlfriend’s dinner and, poof!, the idea became reality for our “Smiley Climb To The Top”.
Richard Smiley – For me, the idea began when I was considering joining a friend who was planning a climb to the base camp of Mt Everest. This may have been a bit ambitious as a first climb, but it got the wheels churning for a more adventurous type of vacation. Then, when I shared my idea with Ronnie last Christmas, it turned out we had the same idea, except that she substituted the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro instead.
Similar to Ronnie, I had also been considering a career switch where I could combine my job with something where my efforts could help others. I had already been looking at various non-profits to see if there was a fit for my skills. To be honest, the idea of merging the two only came about with Ronnie’s ‘serendipitous’ meeting of Barbara March at a dinner. We’ve used that word quite a bit in reference to the whole experience, because so much of this trip just seemed to come together as if it was something we were supposed to do.
TBD – Who did the climb benefit? How did you make the connection with that group and what will the money you raise do for them?
RS – The climb was organized by March to the Top Foundation, whose goal is to help underprivileged people of Africa by providing support in health care, education and conservation. The specific project we were focused on is the New Hope Orphanage, which provides shelter and health care to children living with HIV/AIDS.
The orphanage itself is operated by AINA (the Italian Association of Nomades of Love), with March to the Top being the primary benefactor. The money raised would go towards various initiatives for New Hope.
TBD – Were you both on board from the beginning, or did one of you have to talk the other into doing it?
VS – I did a lot of volunteer work at Georgetown University but then got whisked into the working world and was limited to making donations here and there. For me, this trip was all about living it and seeing it for myself, not just reading weepy articles or hearing other people talk about the need.
Lo and behold, my brother said he wanted to do it together! Well no doubt about it, the trip would never have been the same if we hadn’t done it together. Fate works in funny ways and I really believe this was in our cards.
RS – Yes, we were both on board from the beginning!
TBD – How long did it take to plan? What did that involve?
RS – So, the initial idea to climb Kilimanjaro evolved last Christmas, 2010. Over the next couple of months, we started to research different outfitters who would organize the climb. It was in April that Ronnie made the connection with Barbara March and the March to the Top organization. That is when everything started to fall into place. However, even with Barbara’s help, there was a lot to coordinate.
We had to organize the standard stuff such as flights, lodgings and visas, but also get numerous shots (yellow fever was a must, typhoid, Hepatitus A & B, etc.) and various medications (Cipro, malaria pills, Diamox for altitude sickness). Plus, we had to gather our equipment for the climb. The outfitter supplied a recommended list of what we’d need, but it was still a big task in and of itself to gather all the items we would be dependent on once we were on the mountain.
And finally, there was the training for the climb itself!
TBD – What kind of training did you have to do to prepare?
RS – Ronnie and I approached the training a bit differently. Ronnie already does a lot of cardio, so she was more focused on training hikes to become accustomed to terrain and to help break in her boots. I was also focused on cardio, but being based in Florida, I had the disadvantage of having virtually no access mountains for hiking. I was basically left with doing all of my training at sea level.
I had researched a great deal on combating altitude sickness, and all of the advice pointed to using Diamox (which does not always help) and doing everything I could to make sure I was ready physically. I could not train for altitude, but I could at least do what I could to remove fitness from the equation.
TBD – When did you make the trip? What did you do while you were there and when did the actual climb start?
RS – The overall trip was from Aug 12th to Aug 29th this year, and the climb itself was from Aug 21st to Aug 26th. The trip was really divided into three amazing experiences. The first part of the trip was when we flew from Nairobi to Meru to visit New Hope and saw firsthand the facility and children we would be helping.
Then, we flew to Amboseli, where Barbara and Roy March invited us to take part in another March to the Top project, the opening of the first Masai school in Amboseli – the Esiteti Primary School. We took part in the Masai ceremonies for the opening, which was an experience in itself. On a side note, we did go on safari in Amboseli which was also an incredible experience. While in Amboseli on safari, we had our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro, beckoning in the distance!
At that point, it was pretty hard to believe that in less than a week, we’d be well on our way to the top of that very mountain.
A complete photo gallery will be published on Wednesday.
Founded in 2006, the March to the Top Foundation was established by the March family in order to help the less fortunate in Africa, focusing on improving education and healthcare, specifically with regards to HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis. Veronica Smiley is a member of the March Foundation Advisory Board.