They’re away from their families for days and weeks at a time to earn a living. They endure harsh terrain and inclement weather daily. They carry moderate to heavy supply loads on their backs for long stretches of time so that climbers can enjoy necessities and comforts.
They are the porters of Mt. Kilimanjaro – local Tanzanians employed by climbing companies to carry essential gear needed for mountain adventures. With the important and strenuous role they take on each day, you’d think that porters would always be treated with the utmost of respect and dignity. Not to mention, be provided with fair wages, proper shelter, and adequate food.
You would be wrong.
In worst case scenarios, Kilimanjaro porters are paid half the recommended wages which have been set for them, served only one meal at the end of the day, overloaded with gear to reduce the number of crew members and salaries, and not provided with appropriate shelter.
Clearly, the working conditions of porters are in great need of improvement and a worthy mission. This is where the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) has stepped in. A Tanzanian non-governmental organization, and an initiative of the International Mountain Explorers Connection, KPAP was established to serve porters and the public in numerous ways. They lend donated clothing to porters working on Kilimanjaro at no charge. They offer them classes in English, HIV/AIDS Awareness, First Aid, and Money Management. They also offer the public education on how to properly treat porters. According to Karen Valenti, who has been working with KPAP since 2004, “KPAP is a very small organization with its office located in Moshi. With additional funding our goal is to open offices on the major routes of Kilimanjaro in order to allow the majority of the porters to have access to our clothing.”
KPAP is making progress in many areas when it comes to the treatment of porters. One notable area is the recommended guidelines they have set for porter treatment.
Rules to Live By
One of the challenges that KPAP faces is that consumers often believe that fair treatment for porters is being practiced. Karen says that by KPAP’s estimation, “Only 20% of the companies climbing Kilimanjaro adhere to our guidelines for proper porter treatment. Our goal is to educate the public so they can make an informed decision in choosing a conscientious company.”
According to KPAP’S guidelines for Proper Porter Treatment, a conscientious company would ensure that their porters get paid fairly. The Kilimanjaro National Park and the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators have established a minimum of 8,000Tsh/day. The load weight for porters should not exceed 55 lbs, including their own gear. Porters should receive tips intended for porters in full. The number of crew members should be appropriate for the trip, and no porter should be overloaded so other crew members may be sent down early. Adequate food, water, clothing, and shelter should be provided. Sick crew members should be afforded the same treatment that sick paying climbers would receive.
Unfortunately, KPAP is not received all that well by companies that do not want to adhere to their guidelines. Some of these companies include larger local companies in Moshi. However, according to Karen, they have “very good relationships with companies adhering to our guidelines for proper porter treatment.” Tusker Trail is one of them.
According to Tusker Trail’s Eddie Frank, who has 39 years of experience offering climbs up Kilimanjaro, “Among a handful of organizations purporting to be working on behalf of Kilimanjaro porters, Tusker recognizes only one, and that is KPAP.”
Not only do Tusker and KPAP have a strong working relationship, but Eddie has also gone above and beyond to help ensure the success of KPAP. According to Karen, “Eddie Frank has always been a financial supporter of the International Mountain Explorers Connection. Since my being associated with KPAP, he took on the role of adviser. Eddie has also designed and sponsors our website.” It makes perfect sense that he supports KPAP because he has always been 100% dedicated to making sure porters get paid well and are treated fairly. He also brings the knowledge and experience he has gained over the years from doing business and offering adventure trips in Tanzania.
As much progress as KPAP and Tusker have made towards ensuring fair treatment for porters, they know they can’t do it alone. They need the support of the public to make real and lasting change.
Support the Porters
As Karen states, “KPAP is essentially a very simple organization working on a shoestring. Financial donations are the most needed to support our clothing lending program, classes for the porters, education of the public, and Partner for Responsible Travel Program.” By joining the International Mountain Explorers Connection, or making donations, you can help support KPAP. Visit kiliporters.org to learn more.
Another way to support the porters of Kilimanjaro is by choosing a climbing company that adheres to KPAP’s guidelines. Tusker Trail goes above and beyond these guidelines, paying its crew way above the average wage standards and providing them with the same top-notch, medical monitoring and care they extend to their clients. In fact, Tusker’s medically trained guides often come to the rescue of porters employed by other climbing companies on the mountain.
Now that you know who’s carrying the load, join Tusker in our effort to help the porters of Kilimanjaro continue to do their jobs safely with pride and dignity.