This Harvard Sophomore Is Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

All in the name of charity and public awareness.

Shawheen Rezaei knows what he’s up against: rarely, if at all, do people make it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, with relative ease.

But that’s not stopping him from attempting to scale the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

The Harvard sophomore, who’s a member of the school’s Undergraduate Student Council, is attempting to climb Kilimanjaro in July, and in doing so will be raising money to benefit the Make a Difference foundation (MAD), a non-profit organization that provides education and health coverage for children in need. Specifically, Rezai is raising funds online that will go toward educational opportunities for children in the region. The kids that he is sponsoring will join him on his trip to keep him company.

As he prepares for the mountainous accomplishment—depending on the route, the success rate for climbers is roughly 30 to 50 percent—we reached out to Rezaei, who’s interning with MAD for the summer overseas. Here’s what he had to say:

What made you decide you wanted to climb the mountain?

I thought that doing something big would be the best way I could raise attention to the non-profit’s mission and simultaneously gain the funds to aid these children. Oftentimes, people associate Africa with crisis, poverty, and disease, and in this acknowledgment of the continent’s many problems fail to readily find solutions. I wholeheartedly believe that education is the panacea to numerous afflictions and that its provision to the youth of Africa—especially those in vulnerable positions—could prove to be the continents’ most useful weapon in battling the goliaths set before it.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

The short answer is that I have not. I have hiked before, I am an advocate for several causes, but I have never hiked a continent’s highest peak for the sake of a cause. For even the loftiest of goals, there is a first time for everything.

It’s quite a goal. What have you been doing to prepare for the trek?

I have been preparing myself mentally more than physically. From the advice I have garnered, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is all about pacing. In the race to the top, slow and steady will surely win as anything more would result in over exertion and altitude sickness.

What are you expecting to encounter along the way? Anything you are nervous about?

I hope this process is not just physically challenging but also spiritually strengthening. I am used to a very fast-paced environment in which reflection on life and its beauty lacks presence in daily activities. I am hoping that my time on the mountain will allow me to take spiritual breaths of fresh air and expand my perceptive faculties.

How long do you think it will take?

Staff and other climbers will most likely accompany me on the trip, one of whom being the child I am raising funds for. The climb will take approximately seven days.

Did you ever expect you’d spend a summer away from college doing this?

I knew that I wanted to use my summers to travel the world. I never expected, however, that I would be climbing a mountain.

When you get back, what’s the first thing you will tell friends at Harvard?

I don’t know what I could tell them that would be able to convey the magnitude of feelings that I am feeling at the moment. I know all of my friends back at Harvard are off doing amazing things, but this is something really special.