Tuesday, December 31, 2013

6 hours away from Africa!

After 24 hours of travel, we find ourselves safe and sound in Dubai and we are about to board the flight to dar es salaam! We had just ten hours in Dubai at the Millennium airport hotel, but made the  most of it. Taking directions from the emirates rep, we rushed to exchange our money and quickly boarded the metro to go downtown! It was absolute insanity but we all made it back together as a family, and got some much needed rest at the hotel. On to Africa we go!!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2 years, and $14,545 later...

I am proud to announce that Mountains for Moms at Cornell has raised $14,545, enough funds to forever change the lives of 72 women


Today's the day. We have held countless meetings, sent even more emails, held awareness events, plastered the campus with quartercards, sprinted up and down the slope (way too many times), and spent months getting ready for this trip, and it's finally here. We depart tonight at 10:20pm from JFK, and after two long days of travel, we will be arriving at Kilimanjaro International Airport on January 1, 2014 to being this marvelous adventure. 

After the fistula-free climb in 2008, no one knew whether this trip would happen again. However, the club resurfaced as Mountains for Moms in the fall of 2011, and after two years, we are finally getting to Kilimanjaro! We restructured the club with a new executive board, and kicked into high gear. Led by myself, Madison Grasty, Peter Noback, and Eric Obeng, some of the die-hards who had been with it from the start, we began to plan. Little did we know what we had gotten into. 

However, after hours and hours of negotiating with travel agencies in Tanzania, airlines, and the local M&T Bank for all those wire transfers for deposits (who now know me and Peter by first name), we got the trip together, and made this adventure possible for 13 students. The beauty of this process is that we did it together, in our collective effort to change the world through just one small trip.

After recruiting across campus to find similarly inspired and motivated individuals, we ended up with a solid team who inspires me every day. They have raised money, told friends and family about the trip, and have wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to this awesome mission. Here's the team:

Luke Mehringer
Alyssa Troutner
Carleen Altinok
Lilia Karimi
Quinn Cox
Amanda Steckel
Jennifer Brenner
Rebecca Li
Jenny Tang
Peter Noback (VP Finance)
Eric Obeng (VP Service)
Madison Grasty (Vice President)
Kristen Barnett (President)

We want to thank so many people for helping make this possible - our families, for supporting us with this crazy idea and actually letting us go to Tanzania with 12 other students; our friends, for putting up with our constant "I'm climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro this January and this is why..."; acquaintances, for listening to us and becoming involved in this mission and donating, and everyone who has ever taking a second glance and an extra moment to learn what Mountains for Moms is all about.

We also must thank Seth Cochran, founder CEO of OperationFISTULA, for providing us with invaluable guidance, advice and inspiration through this journey. 

We are doing this to have people as "Why?" A question that would never come up otherwise, if we were not about to summit the world's tallest freestanding mountain. There are too many women suffering in silence, and we are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to finally make their voices heard, and give them the chance to have a life they never thought possible after obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula is 100% fixable, and this is our way of working towards a fistula-free world. 

Please follow us on this blog, as we will be updating it as much as possible throughout the trip with pictures and a daily journal of what we are doing! 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mountains for Moms Thanksgiving

[reposted from Slope Media on November 28, 2013]

As we all gather round the table with family and friends, we all ponder this question together – what are we thankful for? Well for me, I’ve been thinking about this all semester, all year, and essentially my whole time while at Cornell. Arriving here during the craziness of freshman move-in day, and jumping right into the insanity we call o-week, I haven’t stopped being thankful for the friends, education and experiences I have been able to have while at Cornell, and one in particular, Mountains for Moms. There are so many reasons to be grateful in the world and Mountains for Moms is a group I feel lucky to be a part of.
Mountains for Moms is a group of students who is continually thankful. We are thankful for our good health, our loving and supportive families, and all the opportunities that Cornell has given us, a small student group looking to change the world. The biggest thing we are thankful for: our moms and our health.  We cannot stand the thought that mothers in this world are suffering, and we want to change that. Look around you – look at what great health you all have! Even if you’re not 100% healthy, we are at least lucky enough to have access to the resources to get us better in most cases.
Last year, I was diagnosed with chronic lyme disease. For those who don’t know, lyme disease can be a debilitating disease that affects your immune system greatly, leading to flu-like symptoms, aches, pains, dizziness, neurologic dysfunction, anxiety, depression, disorientation, memory problems, among many other things. Months of anxiety, depression, losing my vision, dizziness, and other mysterious symptoms finally drove me to get tested, and suddenly there I was, 19 years old, with chronic lyme disease, microplasma pneumonia, and coping with the idea I would have to modify my lifestyle completely in order to have any chance of getting better.
Most people might view this as a tragedy – I have not lived a “normal” college life for the past year – however, I think it has been a blessing. I will never again take my health for granted, and none of us should. I am beyond thankful for my supportive family and friends who have helped me cope with this disease, and my doctor, who has guided me throughout my treatment.
So many people are not this lucky. Can you imagine have a debilitating condition with no one to help you? Your own family won’t even look at you, let alone associate with you. You do not have the funds to get to any doctor, let alone get the surgery you so desperately need. This is the unfortunate reality for women with obstetric fistula.
I’m thankful for my health. I’m so thankful, I’m climbing the tallest mountain in Africa. I’m not asking everyone to do that, but I do hope you join us in spreading awareness and raising funds to give these women the gift of health that they never even dreamed was possible.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Volunteer Project

Service Project January 2014!

We will be volunteering with the United Africa American Community Center in Arusha, Tanzania, a community-based NGO founded by Pete O’Neal in 1991. It was founded for the purpose of providing programs and projects for the enrichment of the Arusha community, both urban and rural, and to promote closer cultural ties to communities in America and around the world. They currently have several ongoing, daily programs which target the youth in the community, including computer classes, art and craft classes, music, history, health and nutrition, sports and yoga, and English classes. There are also HIV/AIDS awareness and outreach programs that encourage expression through the arts such as Community Theater, song, and poetry. The UAACC is affiliated with the Cornell University Global Health Program in Tanzania. The second half of their 8-week program involves volunteering, which often takes place at the UAACC. After speaking with the UAACC leader and also with students who volunteered there last summer, we determined that this is a fantastic program to dedicate our volunteering time. For the three days we will be there, we will be structuring a camp itinerary for the children affiliated with the center. In the past, volunteers have taught English, music theory and flute, played games with the kids, and invented other fun activities - we can't wait to do what we can to create a fun program for the kids!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Alumni Spotlight: Kevin Welch

Kevin climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Ilya Brotzky and the Fistula-Free climb in January, 2010. Read on to hear his thoughts and reflections from the experience!

What did you wish you knew before climbing?

What I wish I knew going into the climb: bring a camelback that has an insulated tube. For the summit climb, mine froze and I had no water for like 8 hours! Haha, but I'll assume you want some more general advice. I would say go into the experience open-minded, and flexible, yet prepared. You should know it is very difficult and you will need to be dedicated. Treat it like you're running for a marathon. Out of the 11 people in our group, I think I had the best experience physically/emotionally, by effectively training before the climb. Between October and mid-December, I spent 6 days at the gym doing cardio in split daily sessions. In the morning I would run for ~30 minutes doing interval jogging/walking and then do resistance training, and then in the evening I would put the treadmill on maximum incline and do an additional ~30 minutes (my daily goal was burning 800 calories). In hindsight, I think I would have focused less on full-body weight lifting routines, and focused more on legs/back/core. I don't want to say it was excessive because it made the experience much more comfortable and enjoyable for me, and I think this could knowledge could really help other participants, but I know it's difficult to put that much time and effort into the training. A side effect of successfully training for the climb is I was in excellent spirits during the climb, and my body seemed extremely resilient to the altitude and other illnesses associated in being in a developing country. I'd also suggest start drinking water now and make it a habit, since dehydration is a major risk factor of altitude sickness and you don't want to shock your body by drinking 3-6L a day for the first time when you start climbing. In addition to being athletically conditioned for the climb, I got into amazing shape and have managed to retain my athleticism and have made my personal health and wellness an important aspect of my life. Also, be sure you have proper gear (which can be expensive - I'll address that in the next paragraph!)

Do you have any advice for fundraising?
Unique advice for Fundraising/Cost relief: Unfortunately I didn't raise nearly as much as wanted to since I had a crazy schedule that semester. However, I did reach out to my university's newspaper, as well as the regional and local newspapers in my city/hometown. Awareness through Facebook also helped, and friends and acquaintances made some donations. I departed right after the holidays, so I asked family members to donate instead of buying my Christmas gifts, and politely brought it up to any interested extended family members at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Gear/equipment for the climb was expensive. My undergrad graduation was in December, so as a graduation gift my parents contributed to my flight and some gear costs. You can easily find gear for affordable prices- use Craigslist and eBay to buy cheap hiking poles, used winter jackets, goggles, anything Gore-tex. I also went to Walmart and picked up waterproofing spray, which I used on my frame backpack (day pack), outside of my jacket, hiking gaiters, my duffel bag, and my boots. I think the only thing I bought brand new were premium hiking boots w/ medium ankle support (lightweight) which I wore around town the preceding month to break them in. Bottom line, materials/equipment you can easily find cheap used, and fundraising is easy if you network and show your dedication. How did the climb influence your life? The climb was highly influential and inspirational, not just for me, but for my friends and family as well. Personally, it is a very unique and amazing experience to raise money for a cause like this, and then be able to meet the people in the clinics who you are directly helping. It inspired me to go on to get my MPH in Global Health from Tufts University School of Medicine, where I returned to Africa for a semester and worked on preventing blindness in Ghana, and lead to a job at Harvard University conducted community-based participatory research on disease prevention among vulnerable populations. The climb inflamed my passion for global health, social justice, and preventative medicine (and of course adventure!) and I'm now back in school working on my Doctor of Public Health degree in Epidemiology (study of the branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health) and I have pioneered the first ever "doctorate-international" in which I will complete my epidemiology rotations through the Peace Corps. I will be embarking to Malawi for 2+ years starting in March to continue global health work, and completing Peace Corps service leads to eligibility for high-level global health positions in a career w/ the CDC. Much of this is due to the amazing experience I had in Tanzania with Mountains for Moms, not just as a resume booster (which is definitely is - it has absolutely contributed to me getting health sector jobs and graduate school admission) but it's also a very remarkable way to demonstrate passion, ability, determination, cooperation, and dedication to a cause.

Special thanks to Karina Kedo, Mountains for Moms President at Northwestern University for the interview!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts from a Freshman

COLLEGE IS EXCITING. I’ve heard it said, and now I believe it. You hear stories about all the awesome and crazy things that people do in college and you can’t help but itch to go on an adventure of your own, to get out there and make a difference.  Well, I’ve found my adventure.

Mountains for Moms is not a well-known organization. The only reason I knew about it was because my sister was part of it back when it went by the name of Fistula Free Climb. When I heard her talk about how she climbed one of the highest mountains in the world, and for a good cause to boot, all I was thinking was, “will I do something that cool when I go to college?”

I’m ensuring the answer to that question is yes. If you want to get out there and make a difference, waiting around isn’t an option. That’s why I’ve joined Mountains for Moms as a freshman. For now I’m doing fundraisers, writing emails to build awareness for obstetric fistula, brainstorming ideas to get the word out about our mission, and just trying to be useful (not the easiest thing for a freshman!). But before long, I’ll be going places, literally and figuratively.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my few brief weeks at Cornell, it’s that the world is a huge place. There are several classes, dozens of information sessions, and hundreds of clubs that you can get involved with. Everything is thrown at you at a break-neck pace, and it’s hard to tell what’s important to you. So why did I join Mountains for Moms of all things?

THE CHALLENGE TO DO GOOD. It’s that simple. The coupling of a charity and a mountain to summit was perfect for me. There were many other things I could have signed up for, but I can’t imagine an organization that would be more rewarding. It’s tough to distinguish what you’ll want to spend time on, but this is beyond a doubt worth it. If you can’t get directly involved with the organization, read up on obstetric fistula and consider donating. Tell your friends about the condition and build awareness for a global health issue that is largely ignored.

That’s what I’m going to do. I’ve found my adventure. I’ve found my challenge. I’ve found my opportunity to do good. Maybe you’ve found something similar, or will in the future. For the sake of that thing, I’m asking you to help out with this cause, or if not this one something similar. A bunch of strangers and acquaintances talking up the cause or donating a few dollars can make all the difference in the world.

So thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks for anything you do to help anyone out in the future. It means a lot, even if you don’t always see the effects right away.

Luke Mehringer

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Climb Mountains. Save Lives.

Welcome to the official Mountains for Moms blog. We are a group of ambitious and adventurous Cornellians who believe that we can change the lives of women through our combined efforts and drive. What are we doing to prove our dedication? We are climbing 

Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Have you heard of it? It's usually referred to as the "roof of Africa" and that is where you will find us this January.

"Why are you climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?"

Great question - we hear this a lot. We are climbing the mountain because 50,000-100,000 women are suffering right now, suffering due to a condition called obstetric fistula, and we believe that these woman can be saved. An obstetric fistula occurs in the birth canal of a woman after obstructed labor that can last over 24 hours (usually due to young pregnancies or lack to quality obstetric care). What results is a hole that leaves the woman incontinent for the rest of her life, leading to embarrassment, discomfort and social isolation from her family and village. However, with a simple surgery, the hole can be repaired, and the woman can lead a normal life. 

"So how are you actually saving their lives?"

That's where OperationOF comes in. Founded by a Cornell alum, Seth Cochran, it is a non-profit based out of London that provides these women with transportation to clinics, the surgery, rehabilitation, skills training and a small microfund to get them on their feet. OperationOF has established clinic with doctors in Malawi, Zambia, and is expanding into Madagascar. As we fundraise this fall, all proceeds will be going to OperationOF. You can find out more information on their website operationof.org.


That's the amount of money we will be raising for these women. 


That's the number of women that we, a collection of completely different people from a whole myriad of places, can come together to SAVE.


That's the amount of days until we find ourselves in Tanzania, standing at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, ready to go. Bring it on.

Read more about us at www.strikingly.com/mountainsformomscornell or contact Kristen Barnett (kcb74@cornell.edu) with any questions.