Climbing Mountains to End AIDS in Children
Christian Nkini, Senior Grants Manager, EGPAF-Tanzania
It was a lifetime dream come true when I spent four minutes on top of the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro.
In 2009, I was working in the small town of Moshi, TZ that sits at the bottom of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I would often see tourists coming from all over the world to either see or climb the mountain. I wondered to myself why so many people traveled to the country to see what I see on a daily basis.
Talking to some tourists and tour guides in Moshi, I got to know how hard the climb was supposed to be, even deadly. My curiosity increased when I asked some of my friends, ‘Why don’t you climb Mount Kili?’ and they said, ‘The mountain is only for the toughest, nothing leisure-like about it’. This is what changed my whole thinking about the mountain.
In 2013, with a group of six others, I attempted to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. After experiencing severe altitude sickness at 16,896 feet above sea level, my guide recommended that I descend the mountain rather than continuing on to the peak at 19,341 feet.
I was so disappointed in myself because this outcome proved to me that, I was not tough enough to conquer the mountain. However, I made a promise to myself on my descent – that one day, I would come back and summit the mountain.
I gave myself time to figure out what went wrong on my first attempt and when would be the best time to try again. Last year I shared my interest with some colleagues at EGPAF in Tanzania and I was so pleased to gain their support and interest. I have had several staff members show interest in joining me on my trek.
In March 2017, 16 colleagues signed up to attempt Mt. Kilimanjaro in September 2017. However, with everyone’s busy work and personal schedules, a number of people needed to drop out. One week ahead of our trip, the number of EGPAF-Tanzania staff still committed was five, and then three.
I started the trek with two other colleagues but decided to go back on the second day because they felt they were not well prepared.
On September 21, 2017, at 7:15 AM, after six days of climbing, I finally reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest freestanding mountain in the world.
The feeling I had at the summit was breathtaking; I could not verbally express any of my feelings because I was exhausted, had a terrible headache [from the altitude], and was overwhelmed by the six layers of clothing that I had on to keep me warm.
I got help from one of the guides to hold the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation banner that I had been carrying with me in front of the summit sign. Almost everybody at that point switched on their cameras and took a picture.
On descending to our camp – one tourist (Mr. Jan – from Germany) asked if I could provide him with more information about the work that EGPAF does so that he could look into donating 10% of his annual earnings towards ending AIDS in children.
Christian joined EGPAF in 2008 as a Junior Officer to one of EGPAF-Tanzania’s sub-offices in Moshi.
“I started visiting some of the health facilities in the region that were supported by EGPAF. My job was to facilitate the health facilities with financial support and to ensure proper utilization of the money for the project – this job connected me with people from the community and the facilities. The position really allowed me to see how impactful EGPAF’s work is in the community.”
Christian says he carried the banner as a way to recognize the hardships of people living with HIV/AIDS and also to show his dedication to EGPAF and the mission to end AIDS in children. He says Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was certainly a feat; it is not only for the toughest but for ‘survivors’.