“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”
Kilimanjaro! Africa’s highest peak (19341ft/5895m), situated in Tanzania, conjures up visions of explorers trudging up the steep slopes and ultimately being rewarded on the snow-capped “roof of Africa” with a vista that almost defies belief as one is so high that one can actually see the curvature of the earth. Three years ago I, together with eighteen climbers from Israel’s “Save a Child’s Heart”(SACH) young leadership team, successfully summited “Kili.” It had taken us much planning and five days to arduously slog up to the summit. We had spent the previous night snuggled up in our tents enduring a snowstorm with all of our layers on. Even for the fittest it had been a test of endurance. One can imagine my surprise when, as we were making the final push for the summit, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw through the fog a young woman in a wheelchair at 19,000 ft.
The young woman was real and her name is Chaeli Mycroft and she is a living legend. Born in South Africa with cerebral palsy, Chaeli, a quadriplegic has been confined to a wheelchair since childhood. Some people see disability as a burden, others as a gift. Chaeli sees her disability as the latter, a unique opportunity to selflessly advocate for others with disabilities.
At the age of nine, Chaeli and her friends raised money to buy her motorised wheelchair. The success of the fundraiser inspired The Chaeli Campaign, a non-profit that supports the mobility and educational needs of disabled children in South Africa. Since its foundation in 2004, The Chaeli Campaign has helped more than 10,000 disabled children receive equipment, physical therapy and more. A focus on ability and the importance of inclusion are central to each of the eight programs run by The Chaeli Campaign. Today, Chaeli speaks around the world as an “ability activist,” working to create a global community that accepts and embraces disability. She has won a host of prestigious international awards for her activism on behalf of disadvantaged disabled children including, the international Children’s Peace Prize in 2011, The Peace Summit Medal for Social Activism on behalf of all Nobel Peace Laureates in 2012, the World of Children Award in 2013 and the 2018 Obama Foundation African leader Award, in addition to meeting a host of international celebrities and world leaders. Last week she earned a graduate degree.
Since Chaeli became the first female quadriplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on the same day as me and my SACH team, I have stayed in contact and am constantly awed by her positive attitude, grit and determination to succeed in life, despite all of the obstacles that might make lesser people despair. She has even, together with my brother Avigdor, participated in the worlds oldest ultra’-marathon, the 90 km “Comrades,” in South Africa. Chaeli is blazing a trail of positive energy in her mission to make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants. When I sent her a message congratulating her on earning her Masters degree, together with a photo (below) I took of her on the summit of Kili, reminding her of the fantastic day three years previously when we stood on the roof of Africa, she responded, “What an incredible experience shared. Thank you for capturing the crazy emotions that Kili brings out of us.”
Both the epic accents of Kilimanjaro by Chaeli and her team and our Save a Child’s Heart’s expedition, in addition to raising funds and galvanising worldwide awareness of the “Chaeli Campaign” and the “Save a Child’s Heart” project, remind us that when we open our hearts to the world and give of ourselves to others, we become part of a long tradition of charity and kindness and leading by personal example, part of the Jewish culture of Tikkun Olam
“I would love for my legacy to be when people see disability, instead of seeing the limitations they see possibilities. – Chaeli Mycroft
To make a donation to the Chaeli Campaign: https://www.givengain.com/cause/2384/