My daughter Lilliana has grown up with a dad who travels to exotic countries and remote, desolate lands in search of virgin Earth and first ascents. She’s seen photos and films of nomadic people and colorful tribes still living as they have for thousands of years. When I arrive home from expeditions, my bags are filled with carvings, bones, paintings and rugs from cultures that, to many, are only in books, movies or even fairy tales. It’s no wonder why she wants to live this lifestyle too.
At 9 years old, Lilliana declared she wanted to go to all seven continents by the time she was 12. So, by the time she was 11, she had traveled with me to 15 countries and six continents, and was even the youngest girl to complete a ski expedition to Antarctica. During her travels, she also began developing a passion for helping people through humanitarian projects.
At age 11, she had only one continent to complete her goal: Africa. So we focused on her next trip and missing piece.
I asked her, “So what do you want to do in Africa and where should we go?” She decided that she wanted to try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and one of the Seven Summits. She had learned about Mount Kilimanjaro in fifth grade, as well as Tanzania, where Kilimanjaro is located.
I started researching the trip. Soon I connected with an acquaintance of mine, Dean Cardinale, the owner and founder of World Wide Trekking that arranges trips up Kilimanjaro. When we were discussing the details, he told me about his non-profit foundation, The Human Outreach Project, and the orphanage he started near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro called the Kilimanjaro Kids Community.
Once he told me more about it, I asked if there was a way to set up a humanitarian project for the orphanage on our expedition. This was Lilliana’s chance to do something on a bigger scale for some amazing children that were in need.
We discussed the project more, and it was clear the orphanage needed solar energy. Dean’s eyes lit up. “Mike, the orphanage is desperate for exactly that,” he said. “They need solar energy that can provide lighting and electricity and computers.”
I told him about two of the companies I work closely with, the solar energy company Goal Zero and Dell; I already knew they both would be willing to support this project.
Before long, we had worked out all the details for Goal Zero to ship the necessary solar panels and solar generators—they even sent a crew to make sure all engineering logistics would be set up correctly. Dell got on board to send new laptops for the kids, complete with educational software.
My daughter and I were incredibly excited about the adventure ahead. Our plan was to first climb Kilimanjaro, then go to the orphanage and make sure all the solar energy was installed correctly, and set up the new computers for the kids.
Next stop: Tanzania
Just a few days after my daughter got out of school for the summer in early June, we flew from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam to Tanzania. When we stepped off the plane onto the hot tarmac, she had officially completed her goal of her seventh continent. But, Lilliana protested, “Dad, this doesn’t count. When I stand on the summit of Kilimanjaro and we complete the project at the Kilimanjaro Kids Community, then I’ll count this as my seventh continent!”
Before long we met with Dean and the World Wide Trekking crew in Arusha, Tanzania, and started organizing gear for our 40-mile trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was incredibly beautiful; with each 1,000 meters gained, there is a new ecosystem. We started in a rain forest, and within a few days, we were at high altitude in alpine conditions. It took us five days to reach 16,000 feet, which gave us all plenty of time to acclimate. Then at midnight of our fifth day on the mountain, we started the summit push.
Seven hours later, just as the sun was rising, we all slowly made our way to the 19,321-foot summit. It was one of the most beautiful visions I have witnessed: seeing my daughter work so hard and officially celebrate her seventh continent on the summit.
Two days later, we were back at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. We showered, had a celebration dinner, and then headed to the orphanage the next morning. We brought the Dell laptops and met with a crew from Goal Zero to work on installing the solar panels and generators.
We worked hard from sunrise to sunset for three days and ended up installing solar panels at the orphanage, church and school: nine different buildings now have light and electricity.
We set up the new laptops, and the kids immediately wanted to start learning to use them. Lilliana spent hours showing them how to play educational games and other programs. By the time we left, all the kids could operate the computers with ease.
We said goodbye to the kids at the Kilimanjaro Kids Community with tears of joy running down our cheeks and vowed to return again. I know this experience changed our lives forever— and it was a reminder to us of the importance to give back to our people and planet.
Lilliana told me, “Dad, thank you for helping me live my dreams. This has changed me. Do you think we can do a humanitarian project in Nepal next to help the earthquake victims?” I told her, “Absolutely, I will make it happen.” Now, we are already planning our next humanitarian trip to Nepal.