In 2010, Bridgit Fried of Potomac and Cindy Steuart of Bethesda signed up to climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest with a group called “Trekking For Kids.” “I’ll go if you go,” they told each other with trepidation.
“For me, it was a way to get to Everest — an obsession that I have
always had,” said Fried. “I had done international relief work at the U.S. State Department, but had never participated in an outdoor adventure program that gives back to needy children all over the world like TFK,” Steuart said. “Once we promised each other we would go, we couldn’t back out. We started training and preparing for the climb to 18,500 feet — a trek that would change both of our lives forever.”
Since the day they decided to travel to Nepal, both Fried and Steuart have become committed to TFK — a non-profit 501© (3) that “organizes purpose-driven treks for socially-conscious hikers in some of the world’s most remote and iconic location.” The group raises funds to provide sustainability projects for orphanages in developing countries. They make repairs to facilities, build new buildings, provide furniture, livestock, education, school supplies — and even a grocery store. Its motto is “Improving Today, Securing Tomorrow … One Step at a Time.”
Founded by Jose Montero and his sister Ana Maria Montero, TFK volunteer trekkers have impacted the lives of hundreds of children on four continents. Steuart is now the executive director of TFK, and Fried is responsible for communications and marketing.
Once again, Fried and Steuart will endure bone-chilling cold, an exhausting trek to a higher altitude than they have ever before been to, moments of doubt, asking each other why they committed to such a brutal climb — and reminding one another that they are there because they “chose” to be. They will be accompanied by 15 committed individuals, including two mountaineers, Len Stanmore and Luis Benitez. Stanmore is a global explorer who has conquered the highest mountain on each continent, skied to the North and South Pole and run across the Four Deserts. Benitez is one of the foremost high altitude mountaineers in the world. He climbed with the blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer to his historic 2001 Everest summit, chronicled in the feature film “Farther Than The Eye Can See” and also in Weihenmayer’s book “Touch the Top of the World”. He has reached the top of six of the famed “Seven Summits” a cumulative 32 times.
When asked what they fear about the trek, Fried answered, “I am intimidated by the last day of the hike, where we get up at midnight and arrive at the top in time for the sunrise. Trekking in the dark is scary in that altitude. You have to stay in the moment.” Steuart commented that when one is cold, tired and scared, “it is mind over matter. You go beyond your comfort zone. You think you can’t take another step, but then you force yourself to continue on. You learn how mentally tough you can be. It’s empowering. When we come down, the children are inspired by our accomplishment and they learn that they can also be strong and strive for anything they desire.”
On Feb. 15, the TFK group will journey to Mt. Kilimanjaro to trek the highest free-standing peak in the world — 19,340 feet. But one of the most important and memorable parts of the trip will be spending time getting to know 28 orphaned children and working to improve their facilities before the trek. After their climb, they will finish uncompleted projects, take the children on a field trip, and celebrate their time together with food, music and dancing.
Each hiker is required to raise $1,000 that is 100 percent designated to the orphanage projects. Most of the trekkers will garner far more for their cause. The money raised will fund several projects including a perimeter fence around the Kili Centre land, expansion of the existing chicken coops and flock, and a rainwater-harvesting program that will enable the center to collect water and reduce the monies currently spent on water delivery. The children’s bunk beds and mattresses will be repaired, and new sheets and blankets will be purchased. In addition, each child will receive a new school uniform, shoes, backpack and school supplies — and their school fees will be paid for the entire year.
The group will begin their trek on Feb. 19, hiking 11 miles the first day to the Machame Camp. They will continue for six more days, finally summiting the Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mt. Kilimanjaro on Sunday Feb. 24. Fried said, “I’m motivated to reach the summit because of the children.”
Steuart, who has hiked six 14,000-ft. peaks in Colorado and traveled with TFK to Peru, Romania and Nepal explains why these trips are meaningful to her: “It’s really is a life-changing experience in so many ways. It’s giving back, but it’s also realizing that the world is bigger than my world — and learning that there is so much each of us can do to make a difference. It makes me think of the quote by Rudyard Kipling that expresses how Insular life can be, ‘And what they know of England who only England know.’”
“I came back a humbled and changed person,” said Fried. “I look at the world differently. The experience was empowering. I think about what I accomplished, how difficult, cold and miserable I was at times, but I made it through. I realize that the kids we are helping make it through each day without the things that we deem as necessities. They have smiles on their faces, and each found a way to give us a present — a piece of them to bring back. It really puts our lives in perspective.”
Len Stanmore’s philosophy is simple:
- We are stronger than we think.
- You don't know what you can do until you try.
- The pain and discomfort is temporary, but the feeling of
accomplishment when you reach your goal will last a lifetime.
There is still room for more people who would like to join this trek to Kilimanjaro. The cost of the two-week trip is $2850 plus airfare. Each participant must raise donations of a minimum of $1000 for TFK. In July 2013 TFK will sponsor a high school trekking trip to Romania in which youths will receive college credit or student service hours. A family trip to Peru is scheduled in June and a trip to Mt. Everest will take place in the fall.
To learn more about Trekking For Kids, go to www.trekingforkids.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Donations are appreciated, and corporate sponsorships are encouraged.