Hello! My name is Mikayla Lathrop, and I am a junior mathematics and environmental studies major at St. Lawrence. This past semester, fall of 2019, I was given the incredible opportunity to step outside of South Londonderry, VT and the SLU bubble to study abroad in Kenya. Throughout my time there, we traveled all over the country learning about the 47 different ethnic communities and how they are being affected by climate change. As soon as I heard that I had been accepted to the program, I immediately started looking up fun facts and pictures of Kenya. One picture that continued to appear was an image taken from Amboseli National Park with Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341’) in the background. As an avid hiker, I immediately set a goal to climb the highest mountain in Africa. I am very grateful to have received a Travel Enrichment Grant from the Clare Marie Rogers Mathews Memorial fund. Natalie Ammarell and other friends and classmates of Clare Mathews showed me how important and rewarding giving back to the St. Lawrence community can be.
On December 16th, 2019 three of us, including Ali Kostick (SLU ‘20) and Carolyn Holran (SLU ‘21), summited Mt. Kilimanjaro at 6:20 in the morning. After four days of hiking and acclimatizing we were ready to to reach the peak. We woke up at 11 pm on December 17th for chai (tea) time before we began our final ascent at midnight. It was roughly three miles straight up the face of the mountain until we reached the breakover, where we had a mile and a half hike around the crater. On our way up, our stomachs began to churn, our water froze, the air continued to get thinner, and we became loopier with every step. We reached the summit as the sun started to make its way up and bring us some warmth. Our journey will forever stay in our memories.
As part of the adventure, we were raising money for the Kilimanjaro Project via donations from friends and family on GoFundMe. For every dollar donated the Kilimanjaro Project plants one tree at the base of the mountain. Replenishing the tree population localizes the water cycle, which would eventually increase snowfall, and ultimately enhance glacial coverage on the mountain. Glaciers are the key to stabilizing the water system because they produce a regular flow of runoff from the mountain which would then go back into the trees. Thanks to our donors, we were able to plant 1,455 trees in the name of St. Lawrence University. In other words, St. Lawrence has a small forest in Tanzania!
Our guide Moha was very excited about our project and was constantly providing us with more information on the surrounding environment. He has been a guide and porter on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, and Mt. Stanley since the 1980’s and has seen, first-hand, how it has changed over the years. The deglaciation on these mountains has negatively impacted the surrounding communities. The water cycle is inconsistent, so it goes from extreme flooding to extreme dryness. In recent years, the rain has become unpredictable, which has led to a loss in crops, the main source in the East African economy. During the dry seasons there is a significant shortage of water, which means an insufficient amount of food for the increasing population. Water is a basic necessity for humans, and should be a top priority to enable as many people as possible to have access to potable water. This experience has furthered my interest in this issue, and has clarified where I would like to take my career path. I learned more than I ever thought I would during this week on the side of a mountain, and I will be forever grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity.