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Right to Climb: Special-needs charity aims for the summit

Out of breath, out of reach, and out of their minds, a group of daredevil climbers will journey up Mount Kilimanjaro this September, transcending their physical and mental limits so that a community of special-needs individuals can enjoy their right to lead enhanced lives.

The Right to Climb initiative consists of a team of committed climbers striving to raise awareness and generate funds for the cause of mental disability in Egypt–and, in the process, climb Africa’s highest mountain.

Cross-pollination between Wild Guanabana, a travel company dedicated to designing lavish, customized travel experiences with a hint of the adventurous, and Gameyet El Hak Fel Haya (The Right to Live Association), a non-profit organization striving to facilitate the smoothe integration of special-needs individuals into society, may seem peculiar. Yet the alliance has so far proven fruitful.

Prolific media coverage, sponsorship by famous Egyptian actress Yousra, and frantic efforts by a devoted group of climbers to each raise LE20,000 attest to the initiative’s success.

Individuals born with a mental disability are often marginalized, estranged simply for being different. But a life in exile is no life at all–especially if such individuals possess an immense capability to live, create and contribute to society.

The inclusion, support and integration–rather than utter disregard–of those with special needs was the quest of a group of hopeful parents and families back in 1981. The Right to Live Association (RTLA) was thus established, striving to grant persons with special needs the skills and training needed to ensure a smooth transition into our demanding society.

Wild Guanabana, Egypt’s advocate for sustainable and adventure travel, is paving the way for a group of climbers from various backgrounds to help actualize dreams of a better life for the disabled.

This September, Wild Guanabana founder Omar Samra, the first Egyptian to summit Mount Everest and brother to two intellectually challenged sisters, will lead the seven-day expedition in Tanzania.

“Tying something that I'm passionate about, like travel, nature and climbing, with a great cause makes the endeavor much more fulfilling on a personal level,” he says.

Samra and partner Adel Abdel Ghafar think of the project as Wild Guanabana’s “mini Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) initiative.” Believing in the huge potential businesses hold for realizing positive change, Samra adds that, “Although Wild Guanabana is a young company, we're trying to send a message to the business community that you don't have to be big to begin thinking about the environment and CSR.”

Striving to become the foremost trendsetter for sustainable development and CSR in the region, Wild Guanabana is collaborating with The Right to Live Association. “We chose the RTLA because this is an issue that doesn't receive much support and publicity in Egypt and the Middle East,” says Abdel Ghafar.

The Right to Live Association is working to provide intellectually disabled individuals with support and acceptance. Part of the plan is to mold society, yielding it more open to diversity, while motivating people to shed intolerance.

Proceeds from The Right To Climb will help nourish additional projects, including the development of vocational training that will open up future job opportunities, the establishment of community workshops to prevent discrimination against special needs youth, and securing a stable source of income for mentally disabled children through selling products that they produce.

For the climbers, along with raising EGP 20,000 each, reaching the peak of Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding mountain is the goal. But a spectacular view from the mountain's summit is not the only objective. Ascending the mountain, 21 climbers–along with a documentary film-maker–Omar Samra and Adel Abdel Ghafar will tie unbreakable knots with their teammates and unleash their hidden potentials, all the while dedicating their efforts to the disabled.

According to Samra, the goal is to “allow people to discover more about themselves and the world while benefiting the society that we live in.” It certainly promises to be the experience of a lifetime.

Marwa Fayed, a participant in the initiative, first came across the RTC upon contacting Wild Guanabana in hopes of experiencing a “Life Changing Journey."

“I was desperate for a change and I was seeking something adventurous,” recalls Fayed. “And that’s when Omar Samra mentioned that there was a chance for me to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity, and I immediately jumped on the opportunity.”

For Fayed, who is already a charity activist (she is the founder of the Toy Run for Orphanages, a Cairo-based organization that collects toy donations for orphanages), the fact that the adventure was tied to charity was simply the cherry on top. “After I found out why I was climbing, it made me want to do it even more,” she explains.

Like Samra, Fayed fully relates to the cause. “I have a mentally handicapped nine-year-old sister, so this cause is very close to my heart.”

Despite the mental and physical challenges Fayed will take on, the young marketing manager looks at the bigger picture.“I know first hand how challenging it is for families to raise their disabled children because of my father’s struggle to find an appropriate school for my sister, and to teach her the basics so she can have a full life,” says Fayed. “Those are real challenges. I'm simply climbing a mountain for a cause that I truly believe in.”

But climbing Kilimanjaro will be far from simple–even preparing for it is proving to be hard work. “I started training at least three times a week by incorporating running for cardio, and I climb plenty of stairs to get my legs ready,” says Fayed. “Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is probably similar to climbing a million stairs, so if I can get myself used to that, it will prepare me for the challenge.”

Perseverance is the magic word, and Fayed is working on “mentally psyching” herself by telling herself that however grueling some steps may be right now, the September climb will be “ten times harder."

After relentless bouts of nagging, Fayed has successfully managed to raise the required LE20,000 that will directly go to the RTLA. She happily received a massive outpouring of help across her network of friends. “We asked for small donations to make it easier for people to donate, since we wanted a mass contribution rather than just getting the whole amount from only a few people," she says.

“If it wasn’t for these kind and generous people, I wouldn’t have done it," Fayed adds. "They are technically climbing this mountain with me since they helped me reach part of my goal."

Busy with designing the trip, organizing logistics, and managing the marketing and PR elements of The Right To Climb, Samra and Abdel Ghafar have yet to raise the donations required of each of them. Nonetheless, Abdel Ghafar is hoping to acquire more donations during the holy month of Ramadan, when palpable generosity is in the air, and Samra will continue to reach out to friends and family members.

“Some organizations are in desperate need of awareness and help, and sometimes it’s only through major movements like this that they get that help,” says Fayed. “The climb will create awareness of the issue louder and further than any simple donation ever would.”

The Right To Climb may be deemed a little over the top by some. But maybe that's exactly why it's shaping up to be so groundbreaking.

For donations (cash or by check) contact: Abeer Khamis from the RTLA
Tel: +202 22661271/ +2 010 165 0957
Bank transfer to RTLAs HSBC EGP account 001290980
Or US$ 001290980110, Nadi El Shams Branch
For donations off your phone bill, call mobile 2395 (LE 1.5/min)
Or landline 09000 929 / 0900 0900 (LE1.99/min)

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