Four graduates of the Lower Merion School District will in August climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, to help support students who enjoy far fewer advantages than they did.
One is famous for climbing a ladder, not a mountain. Two others have plenty of climbing experience but will be attempting new heights. And as for the fourth, had she not taken on an even more monumental challenge years ago, none of them would be making the trip.
The nonprofit Kujali International in 2007 started a free private school in Tanzania that now serves 100 children, many of them orphans. Kujali is sending 15 people on a six-day trip to summit Kilimanjaro; all are paying their own way and raising money to support the school's operating expenses.
Among the climbers will be:
- Sarah Lowe, co-founder of Kujali and a 2002 Lower Merion High School graduate;
- Doug Young, Lower Merion School District communications director, LMHS Class of 1994;
- Mike Buchwald, student at Cornell University and LMHS Class of 2011;
- Brady McHale, LMHS Class of 2012, who is headed to La Salle University in the fall.
They'll face a 19,341-foot peak, taller than all but two of North America's mountains.
"I try every year to go somewhere mountainous and do some climbing," Young told Patch. "This is a completely different animal."
Young's previous highest summit is in the 14,000-foot range, he said. He's most familiar with peaks in Montana and Wyoming.
Buchwald has climbing experience in parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Shenandoah. The prospect of Kilimanjaro "sounded amazing" when Young mentioned it over the winter, Buchwald told Patch.
"I've been training," said Buchwald, like Young a former basketball player for the Aces. "I'm really not sure how hard it's going to be, but I think I'll be able to make it up."
McHale is a volunteer firefighter for the Gladwyne Fire Company (whose ladder truck he once used to get a date to the prom) and spent basketball season spearheading the Aces Hoops basketball news service. He wrote on his Kujali fundraising page that the concept of improving the educational experience for someone else motivated him to join the trip.
"As I graduate from high school, I quickly realize the importance of education, and how fortunate I was to have Lower Merion School District, let alone this country, and resources our educational system uses," McHale wrote.
As for Buchwald's fundraising, he told Patch, "I've been running a pretty fierce grassroots campaign, talking to everyone I know and people I don't know."
Kujali's goal is to raise $150,000 in 2012. About $85,000 has come in so far. Among the donors listed on the Kujali website is perhaps the district's most famous alumnus: NBA star Kobe Bryant, LMHS Class of 1996.
In early June, as part of the TEDx seminar at Lower Merion, Lowe spoke to current students about Kujali and the early challenges faced in the school-building effort.
Aside from the Kilimanjaro trip, the travelers will be spending some time at lower elevations, helping out at the school, which Young called an important part of the trip.
"You're not just climbing a mountain," he said, "you're in a really amazing part of the world."