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Aiming for the summit of fundraising drives

Both charity and adventure inspired Conestogo businessman Duane Eby to take the trek. He departs for Tanzania in July.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Both charity and adventure inspired Conestogo businessman Duane Eby to take the trek. He departs for Tanzania in July. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Standing strong as the fourth-highest peak in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro is not the kind of vacation destination you can reach on the Greyhound. That’s not stopping Conestogo resident Duane Eby from following in Gregory Peck’s footsteps. On July 4, Eby will begin a ten-day, 16-person effort to raise $250,000 for MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Association), a charity that combats poverty.

“I’ve had adventure in my blood all along,” says Eby, the erstwhile president of Eby Financial Group. “Not that I’ve exercised that much, but this idea of the physical challenge and the adventure of trying to climb a mountain, forcing me to get fit and set some personal goals … I thought, ‘Going to Africa? Yeah.’”

He continues, “Part of the attraction is, there’s actually a group. You don’t feel like you’re doing it alone. I would never think about doing this with just one other person and hiring a few other people. Part of the benefit, I think, is the camaraderie, and feeling just a little bit safer.”

The idea was hatched last August, when a friend connected with MEDA took a similar trip with a smaller group. “On the way back down, he said, ‘I’m going to go back and talk to the executive director, Alan Sauder of MEDA, and say we should get a group together and use it as a fundraiser.’” The trip was advertised in November, and a group of 16 (including seven from the Waterloo Region) had committed by Christmas.

At 63, Eby notes that he’s “not the oldest member of the group.” Still, this will mark his first hike of anything approaching this scale, and training will be important. With an eye towards increasing lung capacity, Eby has been enrolled in fitness and spin classes, swims regularly, and has begun hiking.

“I’ve been taking these fitness classes and saying to the young trainer, ‘Now, you have a defibrillator around here? You realize we could have a heart attack – you could have an emergency on our hands.’”

For spring and summer, he’ll take time away from the gym to test his stamina. “I’m going to find more hills – just walking on roads is kind of boring,” he says. “I’ve had ideas to go to Chicopee, go to Milton, maybe find sections of the Bruce Trail, someplace where there’s elevation up and down.”

Much of the challenge once Eby reaches Tanzania will be in acclimatizing to the oxygen levels further up the mountain. By all accounts, the final climb to the summit is an overwhelming experience, and not simply on a physical level.

“It is a very emotional thing to get to the summit, because I’ve heard people feel the support of everything that’s got them there, including family and friends. Getting to the summit, saying ‘This is as high as we can go’ – that must be pretty emotional.”

The climb will raise money for MEDA, an organization devoted to “creating business solutions to poverty.” During their trip, the group will visit some of the charity’s project sites in Tanzania.

“It’s a fairly small, tightly-run organization that has a very big reach,” says Gloria Eby, Duane’s wife and a longtime MEDA volunteer. “I like it because it’s efficient and effective. They measure everything, and are not afraid to stop doing something if it does not accomplish the very specific goals that were set out.

“It’s also agile, because they take one project and they figure out how to adapt the idea in a completely different kind of environment with a completely different need and make it successful there too.”

Following the trek, Eby will decompress with a Safari tour of the Serengeti. As for celebration? “Ten days after we get back, my son is getting married,” he notes.

“He’ll need to get back in one piece!” adds Gloria.

Eby is looking to raise $25,000 by July. To donate, visit www.meda.org/climb.

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