The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is a not-for-profit organization that provides education opportunities for underpriveleged families in Pakistan. As of 2009, TCF has established 600 purpose-built school units nationwide with an enrollment of 80,000 students. TCF also encourages female enrollment and boasts a 50% female ratio on almost every campus. From October 16-25, 2009, Friends of The Citizens Foundation, a UK-based organization that fundraises for TCF schools in Pakistan, organized a trek of Mount Kilimanjaro, in which participants raised money and awareness about the organization’s work in Pakistan. The team as a whole raised nearly £80,000 – enough money to run nine TCF schools in Pakistan for a year, educating approximately 1350 underprivileged children. Below, CHUP talks to Tamreez Inam and Asim Khan [click to see their blog], a married couple who completed the trek in October and raised nearly £6000 for TCF:
Q: The Kilimanjaro Trek was such a unique fundraising idea developed by Friends of The Citizens Foundation (FTCF), and participants ended up raising nearly £80,000 for TCF schools in Pakistan. How did you get involved with the project and what inspired you to do it?
Tamreez: I had gotten in touch with FTCF because I was interested in finding out more about TCF’s work in Pakistan. As a side conversation, the trek came up. I thought it was such an exciting opportunity and for such a great cause, so I thought “why not?” I decided I would probably only do it if Asim would be willing. To my surprise, it hardly took any convincing before he jumped in as well! It was later we realized what we had gotten ourselves into when we had to start fundraising and training! But it was the adventure of a lifetime and I’m so glad we did it.
Our greatest inspiration was the work of TCF in Pakistan. Their schools are run to the highest standards, competing with elite private schools. For example, the high school pass rate of TCF students is 99% compared to the national average of 60%! They hire only female teachers to ensure high ratios of female enrollment in their schools. Some of the schools have evening shifts for children who work during the day to supplement the family income. The organization maintains high levels of professionalism, transparency and financial accountability. So what really inspired me was their professionalism combined with their ethos that caters to the poorest segments of Pakistani society in very innovative ways.
Q: How did you prepare mentally and physically for the trek?
T: Mentally, I don’t think it really sunk in until we were in Africa, but we tried our best to read up as much as we could before we went. We spoke to people who had already done the trek. I read online blogs of people’s experiences and their tips for making it through the grueling six days of the trek.
Coincidentally, we also read Three Cups of Tea which is American mountaineer and humanitarian Greg Mortenson’s incredibly inspiring story of his commitment to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s remotest areas. That story really inspired both of us and it was an added coincidence that Greg climbed Kili at the age of 11 and spent the first 12 years of his life in the town of Moshi (our base camp for the trek)!
However, nothing could have prepared me for summit night (on the final day for the summit climb, we had to trek eight hours through the night in temperatures that went down to -22 C°). The last hour of the climb, I was crying from exhaustion and the biting cold. I was absolutely convinced that I had frostbite and when I returned, my fingers and toes would have to be chopped off! It’s surprising that I still didn’t give up and kept going. The fact that we were doing it in a big group and saw others who kept climbing, motivated us as well. Also, Asim and I kept pushing each other through the night and somehow when one of us would feel particularly weak or tired or cold, the other would get a surge of protective energy!
Physically, we trained for about three months prior to the trek. We would go to the gym a few times a week and also went on long walks. However, the main change was that we started living a more active lifestyle. Gradually, we saw our stamina improve. However, during the trek we realized we should have trained a lot more! For others who want to go on the trek, I would advise doing aerobics and definitely do a few climbs and treks in the months prior to Kilimanjaro.
Asim: Looking back, I wish we had done a lot more training than what we did. I personally felt mentally strong from the very beginning; the cause itself was a huge motivation and when the funds started flowing into our JustGiving page, we felt more and more into it.
Q: Given that you and Asim raised nearly £6000, how did you go about fundraising for the trek? What kinds of responses did you receive?
Asim & Tamreez: Most of our fundraising was online through our JustGiving page. We sent email reminders to friends and family who passed on the link to others. We also organized a bake sale and a Pakistani handicrafts sale, both of which got really good responses.
The month of Ramadan came during our fundraising as well and as we all know, we’re all particularly generous during that month, so that helped too! We made sure TCF was eligible for zakat and that we paid for all the costs of the travel and expenses ourselves. That assured people that their money would be going directly to the organization and not funding our trip in any way.
More than anything, we were impressed by the generosity of strangers or those who had just met us and found out about the cause. Friends we hadn’t spoken to in ages were some of the first people to donate. Friends of friends came forward and donated anonymously. Family members donated anonymously! It was quite touching. Honestly, the whole experience of fundraising from May to October really strengthened my belief in humanity.
Q: About 25 other people were also climbing for TCF – what was the dynamic like among the group and how did that evolve as the trek went on?
A & T: We were very lucky that we had an amazing group and that we all got along well. Everyone was really nice and friendly and they all believed in the cause. We would laugh and joke and motivate each other to keep going. The scenery was breathtaking throughout the trip and we would stop for photos which led to many memorable moments.
There were about 13 people who joined us from Singapore for the trek and there was a friendly rivalry that developed between the UK group and those from Singapore. As the trek went along, we all started looking out for each other and helping those who weren’t feeling well. It’s quite interesting that when taken away from your usual surroundings and sharing tents and camp toilets with people, you open up and trust each other a lot more than you normally would!
We had about 60 local porters and guides on the trek who were absolutely amazing. They would be singing and laughing and teaching us Swahili words and phrases.
The organizers from the tour operator, Action Challenge from the UK, who came with us were all really great people as well. They made sure we remained on schedule but still had fun. We had a representative from TCF, Hina Suleman, undertaking the trek with us. She was absolutely wonderful. Despite being as tired as the rest of us, she would still make sure everyone was doing well at the end of the day and even on days when she wasn’t feeling well herself, she would still be motivating and taking care of others!
Q: What was the most memorable experience about the trek itself?
T: I think the people we met made it very memorable for us. Honestly, if we hadn’t somehow all gelled, we might have been miserable through the ten days of the trip. Climbing and trekking isn’t easy and add to that altitude sickness, dehydration and hypothermia and you could have a potentially very miserable time ahead of you. But like I said, given we all got along so well, we really enjoyed ourselves and knowing that others were going through similar experiences, it really kept us motivated.
A: Each day of the trip was unique. We experienced almost all climatic zones, from tropical weather in Moshi to extremely cold conditions on the summit. We saw thousands of unique plants in the rainforest. It was amazing to see the tree line disappearing behind us. Reaching the summit was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But the most memorable experience for me was our daily conversations with the local porters. Each one of them had life story of his own to tell. It not only gave us great insight into the local language and culture, but we learned a lot about the plight of a porter. They have a very tough lifestyle and some are forced into it due to their circumstances. From their strife to earn a day to day living to their determination to achieve the best for themselves and their families; it was an eye opening reminder for me.
Q: Do you think creative initiatives like the Kilimanjaro Trek can help not just raise funds but raise awareness about the work of NGOs in Pakistan? How necessary are charities like FTCF in leveraging support for local NGOs?
T: Oh absolutely! Friends of The Citizens Foundation, a UK registered charity and independent from TCF, serves as TCF’s fundraising arm in the UK. Similarly, TCF-USA does the same for it in America. These organizations go a long way in building support for the TCF and creating awareness about the cause. They are one of the most transparent, professional and efficient organizations I have ever come across. Working with them is a pleasure. So in a sense, they restore your faith in Pakistani organizations and those working for Pakistan. Also, because they genuinely care and translate it into actual work on the ground, I think they serve as great ambassadors for not just the NGOs, but our country in general.
A: It’s definitely a great way to raise awareness and hence more funds. It worked in our case. So many people we approached never heard of this charity before and that included Pakistanis. FTCF organized a similar trek to K2 base camp a couple of years ago and that team raised a similar amount too. FTCF no doubt is doing great job in raising awareness in this region. It is one of the biggest fundraising wings of TCF.
If you would like to learn more about The Citizens Foundation, visit their website. If Asim and Tamreez’s story inspires you, you can donate via their JustGiving page, or if you’d like to donate directly to TCF, please visit their website, TCF-USA, or FTCF.