Behind the scenes on Kilimanjaro: Why a female responsible travel entrepreneur is helping a local Tanzanian not-for profit improve the treatment of porters on the mountain
On average, over 35,000 travellers a year climb Mt Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, its snowy peak towering over the nearby African plains. For many, it is the ultimate bucket list item, their childhood dream, a once in a lifetime experience; and months, even years will be spent dreaming, saving and training for that opportunity to stand and say that they have reached the roof of Africa.
The true hiking heroes of Kilimanjaro
Each expedition team is supported by an extensive team of mountain crew - sometimes up to 50 guides, cooks and porters - who carry all of the team’s food, equipment, and who set up the camps as well as sing, dance and keep the team motivated and safe.
As climbers in pursuit of our own goals, we can sometimes be oblivious to the life challenges faced by those who work on the mountain. The Kilimanjaro climbing season spans 8 months and porters are considered to be extremely fortunate to get work to climb 16 times in a year. Based on minimum wage and tipping amounts, on a typical 6 day Kilimanjaro climb, a porter could expect to be paid the equivalent of US$1,090 a year. That’s just £825. With that amount, the porters support their entire family, meaning there is huge pressure for them to accept work sometimes at less than minimum wage and sub-standard working conditions; just so that they can earn some sort of living.
So what is being done?
The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), a not-for-profit based in Tanzania is a very small operation, working on a limited budget to improve porters’ working standards and raise awareness to travellers on responsible travel choices. Their work on the ground has already impacted over 7,000 porters; however, there is still a long way to go. It is estimated that 3 out of 4 porters in 2018 may still be paid less than minimum wage, fed less than 3 meals a day or have inadequate sleeping conditions. The work that KPAP are doing around educating the public on the importance of choosing KPAP-approved partner companies is beginning to gain traction.
But the journey has just begun.
Three Peaks Africa's crowdfunding campaign
Marie Cheng, founder of responsible travel business, Three Peaks Africa, began working closely with KPAP when sourcing local Tanzanian climbing companies to operate her Three Peaks expeditions. Her business has expedition teams climbing three Tanzanian peaks, successively gaining altitude over two weeks, including Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro; mountains which rely heavily on the support of the porters and other crew to get her climbers safely up and down the mountain.
A strong advocate of responsible travel, Three Peaks Africa are crowdfunding for the Kilimanjaro Porters, providing essential funding for KPAP and raising awareness of what they are doing to improve porters’ working standards.
Where will the money go?
The campaign will support continued funding of programmes such as the “Clothes Lending Programme” allowing all porters to borrow mountain gear, free of charge; and monitoring activities for the “Partner for Responsible Travel Programme” that determines if climbing companies are meeting proper porter treatment standards.
For porters, KPAP has made a huge difference. One speaks candidly of “how KPAP and the partner companies have worked together to drive improvements in conditions for them” and how this has impacted their lives and that of their families. He tells us he can “now take his kids to school” after being able to save thanks to receiving adequate pay.
Funding will also go to help reinstate training programmes such as First Aid and Leave No Trace environmental sustainability that will benefit 175 porters. Not only are these important for the continued upskilling of the porter workforce, but also beneficial for communities at home.
#canyoucarrythisbag social media initiative
The crowdfunding is also raising awareness through their #canyoucarrythisbag initiative that challenges people to carry 15kg (5kg < 20kg maximum limit recommended by KPAP) to highlight just how difficult it is to carry what the porters do on the mountain every day. Individuals, encouraged to take on normal daily activities with a 15kg pack, share this on social media with the hope that the initiative creates awareness on porters working conditions to all past, present and future Kilimanjaro climbers.
How can you help?
To support Three Peaks Africa, KPAP and their commitment to making a big change to the treatment of porters on Kilimanjaro, visit their page and pledge before the 9th August.