MEDA in the News

Manheim Township man helps charity by climbing Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro

Clair-SauderSource: "Manheim Township man helps charity by climbing Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro" by Ad Crable in Lancaster Online (In Print in Lancaster Sunday News)

Clair Sauder of Manheim Township has reached his lofty goal: to climb Africa's 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro while raising $1 for charity for every foot of that climb.

Sauder, 63, was among 16 hikers from across North America to climb to Africa's highest peak to aid Ontario, Canada-based Mennonite Economic Development Associates.

Sauder exceeded his fundraising goal by raising $23,434 for MEDA, an international economic development organization with a mission to create business solutions to poverty.

Founded by Mennonite business professionals in 1953, the organization partners with the poor to start or grow small and medium-sized businesses in developing regions around the world.

While in Tanzania, Sauder visited several MEDA projects, such as one that distributes insecticide-treated bed nets to protect pregnant women and children from contracting malaria. In the last 10 years, more than 35 million nets have been distributed to Tanzanian families.

Another project Sauder saw was one that helps farmers develop disease-resistant and disease-free varieties of cassava, a staple crop in poor areas.

Unlike Mount Everest, Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb requiring ropes and ladders. But Sauder traveled through five ecosystems — from rainforest to alpine desert to glaciers. It was like hiking from the equator to the North Pole in a mere 10 days.

Together, the 16 trekkers raised 276,000 for MEDA.

MEDA reaches for the top

The-MEDA-Kilimanjaro-climbers-on-their-way-to-the-topSource: "Reach for the top" by Bob Vrbanac in the Waterloo Chronicle

The members of a local fundraising team had scaled the heights of Africa's tallest mountain and were swallowed up in clouds when Allan Sauder got his final message out about the ascent to his wife on his BlackBerry — "It's all downhill from here."

Sauder, a Waterloo resident and president of Mennonite Economic Development Associates, chuckles about it now but he admits to sleepless nights and a little insomnia before embarking on the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro with 16 hikers in support of his group's work to create business solutions to tackle poverty around the world.

The goal was to raise $250,000 for programs like MEDA's successful mosquito net initiative, which helps people in Tanzania fight off the ravages of tropical illnesses like malaria while creating a thriving business that helps pull people out of poverty and build a successful social enterprise [Webmaster's note: The MEDA Kilimanjaro Climb raised money for MEDA's work around the world, supporting various projects that focus on MEDA's mission of creating business solutions to poverty].

It was only while getting ready to climb the 5,895 metre tall mountain that the group, which also included local couple Joanne and Trevor Beattie whose story of climbing for a cause was told back in May in the Waterloo Chronicle, that they learned they had reached their fundraising goal. In fact, the people following the climbers on social media helped push the fundraising total to $267,772.

"I thought of the climb itself as drudgery but once we got on the mountain I really enjoyed it," said Sauder. "We had great camaraderie with the climbers and the company that took us up ... and as we were going up the contributions kept coming in."

Sauder, who had last been in Tanzania for a project 27 years ago, said the communication kept them motivated.

"We set up a way to communicate with our supporters so I had my BlackBerry with a roaming package and actually got Internet access on places on the mountain," said Sauder.

"It wasn't everyday but it was enough to send back little messages and send them back to our supporters.

"We had this flood of support that came back to us, and it was that moral support that was equally important to us."

As they climbed through five different temperature zones to get to the top, including making their way through equatorial heat to snowy glaciers, Sauders said he was truly awestruck at the experience.

"You go through five different climatic zones," said Sauder. "It was like walking from the equator to the North Pole they say, and there were just such spectacular views — I was enthralled each day."

Sauder said he took the challenge seriously, working with a personal trainer in the months leading up to the climb and putting in some time hiking the Adirondacks in New York and the Rockies in Alberta with his wife Donna Snyder to get prepared.

"But as we went along many of us started to feel stronger and more and more like 'yes, we can do this' and we were lucky that all 16 of us reached the mountain top," he said.

The fundraising climb was part of a 10-day mission in July that connected the climbers to some of the projects initiated by MEDA. Sauder and Snyder also stayed on for a couple of extra weeks after and it allowed him to catch up with some projects that he had a hand in himself almost a quarter century ago.

"The goal is not to be involved forever and when we leave that it will go on," said Sauder, which includes creating a disease resistant strain of a tuber called casaba that local farmers rely on.

The money raised will go to research and test some more initiatives that will help people in the poorest parts of the world with a hand up and a chance to create a more sustainable future.

As for his earlier text message about it all being downhill from the top, Sauder said there was no planning involved in sharing that little witticism.

"It just came to me," he said with a chuckle. "The air is pretty thin up there, you never know what's going to pop into your head."

An uphill battle of some note

The-MEDA-Kilimanjaro-climbers-on-their-way-to-the-topSource: "An uphill battle of some note" by Whitney Neilson in the ObserverXtra (In Print in the Woolwich Observer)

Tanzania isn't your typical summer destination. Hiking uphill for 10 days is far from a relaxing vacation. Nevertheless, a group of 16 climbers headed off in July with the goal of raising $250,000 for MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Association). After a year of fundraising they surpassed this figure on the first day of their trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Allan Sauder, executive director of MEDA, was among the group and just returned home this week after travelling through Tanzania following the climb.

"It was pretty demanding physically, but as we went along I felt increasingly confident I had done the right things in preparation," Sauder said.

Sauder was given three months to prepare for the strenuous task of conquering the fourth-highest peak on the globe. He hired a personal trainer, walked to and from work when weather permitted, and hiked challenging trails with his wife.

"Every seven years or so we're supposed to take a personal development leave and in my case it had been 27 years, so I was ready," Sauder said with a laugh.

He and his wife hiked the Adirondacks in New York and the Rockies in Alberta during his time off. He said he doesn't think he could have done the climb without that preparation.

The peak reaches 19,341 feet above sea level, or 5,895 metres, making it the tallest mountain in Africa. The group started planning for the trip last August, hoping to raise a quarter million for MEDA's various projects around the world helping to overcome poverty. As of this week, $276,000 has been raised. He says this shows a strong sense of support from their constituents.

Two highlights stand out for Sauder upon returning from the journey.

"First, the spectacular scenery. I didn't have it in my head just how beautiful it would be," Sauder said. "Seeing the constantly changing vegetation, that part was just fascinating to me. The other part that was just a positive for all the team members, we just had such a strong camaraderie among the group. It was a lot of fun. We just really enjoyed each other's company."

When Internet access allowed, Sauder would read messages of support from home and the MEDA website, passing around his Blackberry for the group to read at night.

"That was really important. The financial support was important but equally important was the moral support."

The physical task of climbing the mountain wasn't Sauder's biggest challenge. For him, it was all in his head. The fear of not being able to finish what he started caused him some concern, leading to insomnia before leaving for the trip.

Turns out he shouldn't have worried, as they all completed the trek without incident. On the day of their summit they woke up at 5 a.m. and climbed for the first hour with head lamps on in the dark. After over eight hours of climbing, they reached the very top. They took photos with a banner and then began their three hour descent.

"I certainly had and I know a lot of us had a big grin," Sauder said. "It was certainly a big sense of accomplishment. I think we were really too tired to be ecstatic. It's a neat feeling."

Sauder's wife joined him in Tanzania following the climb, spending some time relaxing by the ocean before visiting one of MEDA's three projects in the area.

No stranger to the land, Sauder lived there some 27 years ago when he first started working with MEDA. This time he visited his old stomping grounds and met with some of the staff he had worked with.

The group of climbers met with the people running the mosquito net project, which has been going for 10 years. Mosquito nets treated with insecticide are available now in 7,000 retail locations across the country to help protect against malaria.

The second project is in partnership with the Gates Foundation, working to find disease-resistant cassava seedlings to give local farmers which are efficient and affordable. Sauder described them as "tubers," an important part of their diet.

"The third one is working with sunflower seed oil and fortifying it with vitamin A and other nutrients that are missing from their diet, typically."

The money raised will go towards research and development in MEDA programs across the globe.