Every Kilimanjaro climber contributes some part of what he or she pays to the hire of large numbers of local porters. When played fairly the game is a good one. The more that local people can feel a sense of inclusion in the eco-tourism bounty of their region the more likely they are to feel part of the effort to maintain and preserve the precious natural areas that they are part of.
When played badly it is an ugly business that is a stain on the otherwise superb experience of climbing this great mountain. The Kilimanjaro porter fraternity is a largely itinerate pool of local men who compete for jobs in the sector simply because it pays better than most other types of employment locally available. However this notwithstanding there has been, and remains a tendency to exploit the desperation of many local people to send them up for a minimal fee, to expect them to survive at high altitude with little if any practical survival gear, and generally to short-change them at every opportunity.
Many local operators will argue that porters are by their nature an itinerate group. They work when they need money and not when they don’t. It is impractical to give a porter a full compliment of kit when the next day he could be gone along with a lot of expensive outlay. This is true, and certainly there are pros and cons to both side of the story. However the fact remains that too many of these men are dying for want of a bit of information and equipment, and there is something inherently wrong in over equipped westerners nestling into padded boots, thermarests and sleeping bags while porters walk in old shoes or sandals, and bed down under a blanket.
Basic equipment for their own use is way beyond the financial reach of all but a few porters, and what you have sitting in you garage or basement unused since the 1980s would be a gold-mine, and more, a lifesaver for many of Kili’s porters.
Most people involved in this effort agree that it is inadvisable to give kit to porters after or during a climb, even if they ask for it. A better plan is to donate it to the KPAP offices in Moshi and let them distribute it. The porters themselves are not above the odd little scam, and a miniature industry is involved in cadging what you can at the end of a trip!
Check out our Fair Trade blog.
Get in touch with me direct for the names of climbers willing to courier kit out to Tanzania, or box up your old kit and send it either to:
332 North Church St
Kilimanjaro Backpackers Hotel
(formerly Da Costa Hotel)
J.K. Nyerere Road
P.O. Box 1275
By Peter Baxter
November 6th, 2008