When Victor Whitaker climbs Mount Kilimanjaro this month, it won’t be solely for the thrill of scaling the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.
There’s an even loftier goal at stake for the 60-year-old Archdale man.
“I’m climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for orphans and orphanages around the world, so I’m excited about that, too,” he explains.
Whitaker and his daughter, Shannon Roach — who grew up in Climax but now lives in Wilmington — will make the trek together in conjunction with “Klimbing For Kids,” a fundraiser for the nonprofit Haven of Hope International. The Florida-based organization partners with orphanages and foster group homes around the world to improve the standards of care for orphans.
Whitaker and Roach are hoping to raise $5,000 apiece in sponsor pledges. The funds will be funneled into Haven of Hope’s “Future of Hope” program, which helps teenage orphans transition into adulthood by providing them with vocational training or college education.
“A lot of these kids, when they age out of the orphanages, they’re just forgotten and they have nowhere to go,” Whitaker says. “So this funding provides scholarships to give them more education after they leave the home.”
The climbers will leave from Miami on Sept. 11, arrive in Kenya on the 12th, and spend a few days visiting orphanages in that region. Then they’ll proceed to Tanzania, where the climb will begin on Sept. 16. It will take the group six days to reach the summit, then two days to come back down.
At 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is nearly three times higher than North Carolina’s own Mount Mitchell — which, at 6,684 feet, is the highest U.S. point east of the Mississippi River — so the climbers will have their work cut out for them.
“Yeah, it’s quite a bit of difference,” Whitaker says. “I know it’s going to be thin air up there, but I’ve been doing some extensive training to get ready, hiking with more weight in my pack than I would typically carry. And about a month ago, I put my pack on and my boots, and I left from the YMCA in Greensboro and hiked to Summerfield and back on the same day. It came out to exactly 26.2 miles, which is the length of a marathon, so I felt pretty good about that.”
Whitaker, who is plant manager at the Mother Murphy’s flavoring facility in Greensboro, took up hiking some 20 years ago, when he hiked about 300 miles on the Appalachian Trail. He has since gotten involved with the Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club, and he goes hiking somewhere almost every weekend.
His daughter, however, is a different story.
“No hiking experience — none whatsoever,” Roach says. “I live at the beach, so it’s kind of a trek to be able to go hiking anywhere. Most of my training has been strength training and cardio training.”
She’s in good shape physically, she says, but she still admits to some apprehension about climbing Kilimanjaro.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it,” Roach says. “It’s not so much the physical aspect of it — I train every single day, and I’m pretty into fitness — but the altitude worries me a little bit. I’m at sea level here, so I don’t know quite what to expect in terms of altitude and the air being so thin.”
Otherwise, though, she’s excited about being able to make such a journey with her father, and the opportunity to participate in such a worthwhile mission trip.
“I feel like God has put it on my heart to do a trip where I could go with my dad and experience it with him,” Roach says.
“And for this to be a trip benefiting those kids is really exciting. I feel like God puts a hope and a dream in everybody’s heart, but these kids don’t have the resources to pursue their dreams. I want to help them do whatever it is God has placed in their hearts.”
Whitaker, a veteran of several previous mission trips, agrees.
“Haven of Hope is just a great organization doing great work,” he says. “I’m excited about the opportunity to help these kids.”