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Walking above the clouds

The Kilimanjaro Porter Project, Tanzania

The Kilimanjaro Porter Project

To anyone who has voyaged to the roof of Africa, Arusha will garner fond memories. The town sits in the shadow of mighty Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and is home to many who make their living by helping others reach the summit of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain.

Outside of trekking season and during the long (April-June) and short rains (November) employment opportunities in Arusha are limited for porters and guides. To combat the lull of the rains, in 2004 Exodus established three rainy season schools so that guides and porters could improve their language skills, environmental awareness, and customer service skills. Initially, the schools focused on enhancing employment opportunities or developing existing careers.

Since 2004, our Kilimanjaro Porter Project has flourished. In 2010, Exodus teamed up with the Kilimanjaro Guide Scholarship Foundation (KGSF) to provide three-month scholarships for career development courses during the long rains which taught students the importance of wildlife knowledge, tour operations and administration, social anthropology and history, and tourism geography.

In 2019, Exodus enrolled 70 porters on a three-week First Aid training course so that porters were more confident in supporting each other while working on the mountain. Their newfound knowledge also meant they were able to assist with basic medical needs within their own communities whilst not working up in the clouds.  

In 2020, we launched our Leave No Trace Porter Programme which aimed to empower porters through ‘train the trainer’ classes, teaching environmental care, ethics, and methods to 90 porters on Mount Kilimanjaro. These porters will be emboldened with the knowledge and practical skills of environmental protection resulting in preservation of the mountain, which can be taught to further porters through workshops and classes.

When the pandemic hit, we were able to work with our trusted partner, Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, to pivot our support in response, distributing health and money management information to 7,000 mountain crew and funding some subsistence farming training. Whilst tourism remained on pause, we funded alternative income generation training for over 1,000 porters, to help them put food on the table and get through an incredibly tough time.

Since 2022, when the world began to re-open, we have been supporting the delivery of ‘Village Savings And Loans’ workshops that empower participants to better manage money and generate alternative streams of income. These community led, micro-savings classes help the local mountain crew to overcome social and financial barriers and increase economic opportunities. So far, over 100 people have benefitted from the workshops and we look forward to establishing more in 2023 and beyond.

Mountain Lioness Scholarship 

For over a decade now, Exodus has proudly supported female guides and porters on Mount Kilimanjaro. In such a traditionally male-dominated role, we are honoured that we can support trailblazing women in finding employment opportunities on the mountain which hugely enhances their earning potential and prospects for their families.

In the past decade, female porterage on Mount Kilimanjaro has transformed from non-existent to a norm on an Exodus trek and these women now form the literal backbone of our expeditions. In 2017, we vowed to continue our work in representational employment in Tanzania, and we made a commitment to filter equal opportunities through all levels of the expedition crew from cook to porter to guide. In the same year, we sponsored Neema Moses to attend a Guiding Certification course – our very first female head guide.

In 2019, we released a mini-documentary, Ngumu, which tells the story of the pioneering female porters and guides changing the face of Kilimanjaro. Inspired by all we’d learned through the creation of Ngumu, in 2020, Exodus teamed up with the Robertson Outdoor Bursary (ROB) and together we launched our Mountain Lioness Scholarship. This program aims to award a further 30 women over 3 years with guide training scholarships.

The scholarship itself was named after Lucia Kivoi, nicknamed “lioness” and featured in Ngumu, because of her pioneering spirit as a senior guide and woman who helped to spearhead the acceptance of female porters on Kilimanjaro. Covering Mountain Ecology, First Aid Emergency Care and Wilderness Rescue, this mountain guide training provides women with the essential skills to become fully certified and take the step from porter to guide. This can provide a life-changing opportunity, offering graduates a stable income so they can help support their families and pay for their children’s education in the communities surrounding Kilimanjaro.

In November 2020, we were pleased to announce that our first 10 Lionesses graduated our Mountain Lioness Scholarship programme and obtained their guide licenses. You can read their story here. They were followed by a further 8 in November 2021, with 12 more scholarships offered in 2022. The final 7 women will be undertaking the training and hoping to graduate as guides in May 2023, which is a cause for huge celebration. As the scholarship programme comes to an end, a new chapter of exciting guiding opportunities opens for these incredible women.

If you would like to show your support for these remarkable women who continue to break down barriers, click here.