On the first and last days, it poured rain. At 9,000 feet, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis. At 12,000 feet, my face and my hands swelled disproportionately as a result of altitude sickness. At 15,000 feet, I worried about whether I would make it through at all. Seven days, six nights later, I bounded back down to sea level, able to check Mount Kilimanjaro off my travel to-do list. For charity, no less…
Before I left for Tanzania, I had never logged a night inside a tent. Let alone a tent on a mountain. But when a friend of mine asked me to attempt a summit of Mount Kilimanjaro for a Kenyan orphanage, I couldn’t say no. Looking back, I’m so glad that I agreed.
Enter Flying Kites, a non-profit organization that is working to break the cycle of poverty by testing the traditional fundraising model. Their Adventure Challenge Program tasks global adventure seekers with fundraising for once-in-a-lifetime trips that test both the mental and physical endurance of participants. If it’s your dream to scale Everest, surf your way down Nicaragua’s coast, or kayak around Baja’s Espiritu Santo Island, Adventure Challenges has the trip. After committing to raise between $3,000 and $5,000 (50% goes directly back to Flying Kites; 50% covers trip costs), travelers set off for one of six destinations around the globe. Everything is taken care of–from airfare to meals–but the best part is the individual and collective impact of such a mission. Life changing. Times two.
Founded in 2007, Flying Kites is the brainchild of three friends who had spent time volunteering in the slums of Nairobi and understood that true change in the world’s poorest countries could only happen through education. Flying Kites’ first Leadership Academy for students–in Njabini, Kenya–is achieving the goals set forth by its founders.
It was an incredible experience to stand on six acres of African countryside and see the 70-plus day students and 18 boarders who have found shelter and safety behind Kites
doors. The shrieks and screams of the children playing were music to my ears and I understood why Flying Kites Academies in India and Brazil are already in the early phases of implementation.
The winter season’s Adventure Challenge Program launches in December with trips to Baja, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. And if, like me, you’re set on Kilimanjaro, there’s another trip beginning December 27, 2010. Sign up happens now at www.fkadventurechallenges.org. With endeavors like Flying Kites Adventure Challenges, responsible tourism just got way more interesting.
Marie Elena Martinez is a freelance travel writer in New York. She is finishing One Girl, Many Maps, Many Mishaps, a travel memoir about her time in South America and Southeast Asia. Her website and travel blog (including The Kilimanjaro Diaries) is at www.marieelenamartinez.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @mariesworlds.