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An uphill battle of some note

There was a lot of upward and onward for the MEDA team. [Submitted]

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.

There was a lot of upward and onward for the MEDA team.[Submitted]
There was a lot of upward and onward for the MEDA team. [Submitted]
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.

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