From the Loyola Phoenix: Students to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Posted on: March 31st, 2012
by Nathan Lurz

For some, charity work involves volunteering at a soup kitchen, participating in a fundraising walk or working with the elderly. But for two Loyola seniors, community service presents a much taller order: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Premed students Megan Drissell and Charlie Treinen plan to reach the famous Tanzanian peak in early August to raise money for the international charity Partners in Health (PIH). The organization works with severely impoverished communities in the U.S., Haiti, Mexico, Russia, Peru, Rwanda and other countries around the world to provide health care and health education and establish long-term medical facilities.

The medical outreach aspect is what originally drew the two students to the organization. “We both have similar career aspirations, we’re highly considering med[ical] school,” said Treinen, a 22-year-old biology major. “We’re also both very interested in social justice and global health care. For me, a lot of that was connected to a class I took last fall through Dr. [Jane] Egan [that was] really concerned with ethical issues in health care around the world and really opened my eyes to where our priorities lay.”

Drissell first heard about PIH’s founder, Paul Farmer, through a book about him called Mountains Beyond Mountains. In Egan’s class, the pair learned more about Farmer, who traveled to Haiti when he was just 20 years old to begin his work abroad. Drissell, a religious studies major, listed him as an inspiration for her bioethics and anthropology minors and calls him a pioneer in understanding the connection between culture and medicine.

Both Loyolans said that they admire Farmer’s organization and its mission. “It’s not a bunch of Western doctors going in . . . treating them and then leaving,” Treinen said. “It’s really self-sustaining, and they’re doing so much good in the world and we both really admire what they’re doing and kind of decided we wanted to raise some money for them. Then, serendipitously, we decided to also climb Mount Kilimanjaro,” he added with a laugh.

Drissell found out last Thanksgiving that she had won the John F. Grant Award, a monetary prize for students who are especially interested in health care ethics. She applied for the award at Treinen’s urging, and said she naturally turned to him to figure out how to use the money. She wanted to do “something different” with the money, and mentioned that she had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro in a conversation with Treinen. He echoed the sentiment, and both decided they should use the money and experience to accomplish this goal and do something meaningful.

“We kind of just pieced this together to where we could use this as an opportunity to raise money and raise awareness about this organization we both care about and then do something really awesome after graduation,” Drissell said. She said she appreciates the lengths that PIH goes to in order to provide people with necessary care. “[Partners in Health] have actually flown someone in a helicopter from Haiti to the United States to get the treatment if they need it. There’s no gesture too big or too small that they won’t go through for their patients,” Drissell said. “They’re motivated to not only look at the aftermath of diseases in these places, but also what’s causing them culturally or in the structure of the society.”

Drissell and Treinen are both taking a year off before graduate school and are accepting donations — not for the trip, but for PIH. Drissell said that all the money they raise would go directly to the charity, and that they are using her award winnings to cover part of the travel costs. They have already raised approximately $1800 so far, including $1000 from Treinen’s high school alma mater, Creighton Prep in Omaha, Neb. Their eventual goal is $6000.

In the spirit of the venture, a large part of the trip planning thus far has been finding an agency to bring them to the top of the mountain that is safe, reliable and pays fair wages to its porters, Treinen said.

Another major concern for the students is training for the climb. Chicago is not a mountainous area, but both have been preparing by running around the city and using Stairmasters. Treinen will visit Austria with his family over the summer and hopes to do a lot of hiking in the Alps.

Climbing a mountain is on Drissell’s bucket list, she said, but her motivation for the trek goes much deeper than crossing the activity off a figurative list. “As cool as the Kilimanjaro thing is, the real point of what we’re doing is using the ridiculousness of us climbing that mountain to draw attention to this organization and to do something for them,” Drissell said. She said that she and Treinen have received a lot of support and appreciation from the organization itself. “[Farmer] is so busy with other projects that we haven’t actually contacted him directly, but we’ve been in contact with one person . . . that we’ve been emailing since we decided we were going to do this and they were really excited about it,” Drissell said. “That made me feel a lot better about the whole thing. It didn’t feel real . . . but then they were so enthusiastic and helpful.”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic, however. While their families eventually came around to the idea, the two said that some of their classmates don’t quite understand why they were undertaking this feat. “Sometimes I think they think we’re making it up,” Drissell said. “There are some students who are really, really excited about it . . . and other people don’t get the connection between climbing the mountain and the organization.”

The two are going to work with local businesses around Rogers Park to begin fundraising, and they specifically mentioned their desire to plan a benefit concert at a local business, such as Metropolis Coffee, Red Line Tap, Pete’s Pizza or Lickety Split.

The official name for the project is Two for Tumaini, which means “hope” in Swahili, the native language of Tanzania. “[The name] conveys that, as terrible as some of the situations seem in the Third World and just how really bleak everything it is for these people . . . there’s always hope,” Treinen said. “People can change the world, and even though we’re two students and Loyola University Chicago, every little thing we can do . . . really does change the world.”

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