Kilimanjaro Education Foundation Charity Climbers Reach Summit And Open A Library
Barry's greatest enlightenment occurred when visiting the Eluwai Primary School and Noonkodin Secondary School in the village of Eluwai outside of Monduli in Tanzania the day before the climb. Leonard's climb helped to raise funds, through the Kilimanjaro Education Foundation, for the school's library and to help officially "open" the library for the school, which was built with funds raised by a Pittsburgh area elementary school, Franklin Elementary, in the North Allegheny School District.
"It was unbelievable to see how we had made a difference in the lives of 200 students, as well as their families," said Leonard, who had been dreaming of this trip since his experience as a passenger on USAirways Flight 1549, involved in an incident which became known as the Miracle on the Hudson when Captain Chesley Sullenberger made the split second decision to land the plane in the Hudson River.
"Everyday since January 15, 2009, when I was on the flight that went down in the Hudson River, this has been 'top of mind,' said Leonard. "I wanted to go on this trip in search of another life-altering event that would at least coexist with the flight. Our trip to Africa gave me so many life events, which I got to share with my son. Those will last more than my life through the lives of my sons and generations to follow."
Leonard scaled Kilimanjaro with his son, Matthew and two friends. He said that he and Matthew were able to check three events off their bucket lists -- helping educate children in Africa, climbing Kilimanjaro, and experiencing a photo safari.
"For me, the high point was visiting the school, which included cutting the ribbon on the library, giving my speech to the 200 students and others in Swahili, becoming an honorary Maasai warrior, and having a lunch of goat leg under a shade tree with the headmaster and other dignitaries," he said. "It was obviously a day of enlightenment for us. I have given financial support to many charities, but for the first time, we could see first hand how our support was making a difference in the lives of others."
Eight months of training ensured that Leonard was able to push through the climb. He said that there were many highlights including an amazing sunrise on the day his party reached the summit.
"But the high point of the trip was visiting the school," said Leonard, "and without KEF's help, we would have missed that opportunity."
That experience including welcoming signs from the children, Maasai women dancing and a tour of the school. After speeches by the headmaster (in English) and Leonard (in Swahili), the 200 school students sang for the group and Leonard was presented with a Maasai cape, becoming an honorary Maasai warrior. Leonard presented gifts and cut the ribbon on the library before enjoying that goat leg for lunch.
"It was a day of enlightenment that I will never forget," he added.
And as if to validate his feelings after visiting the school, on his last night in Africa on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Leonard was totally exhausted and experienced some hallucinations, including a deer running across the trail.
"My guide assured me that the deer represents enlightenment," he said.
Leonard, who has been crossing things off his bucket list since his experience on Flight 1549, is next planning to hike the Camino de Santiago in Spain with his daughter Nicole, trekking up to 20 miles each day.
Kilimanjaro Education Foundation (KEF), (www.kef4kids.org) founded in 2006, is incorporated in New York State and organized as a 501(c)(3). KEF strives to improve education and to build school facilities for underprivileged children in Tanzania and other countries bordering Kilimanjaro. KEF's volunteers and directors share in and impart not only the Foundation's passion for children and education, but also in KEF's core values of honesty, integrity, creativity and imagination.