Dad-daughter humanitarian trek to 7th continent is a dream come true

By Mike Libecki, Contributor

If you’ve read my posts before, you know that my daughter Lilliana has grown up with a dad who lives the life of expeditions; a life of traveling to exotic countries and remote, desolate lands in search of virgin Earth and first ascents.  She has grown up seeing the photos and films of nomadic people and colorful tribes still living as they have for thousands of years.

When I arrive home from these expeditions, my bags are filled with carvings and bones and paintings and rugs from cultures that, to many, are only in books, movies or even fairy tales. If you step into our house, you might feel you are in some kind of museum of a National Geographic explorer who has traveled to 100 countries because, in fact, that’s what it is.

When Lilliana was younger she could only assume that her dad’s quite abnormal life was, well…normal. Kids don’t really know anything different up until a certain point. But as she started to get older, maybe when she was 6 or 7, she started to realize her dad was much different than her friends’ parents – that her dad was in fact not normal at all.

Shortly thereafter, instead of us saying goodbye to each other once again as I went off to a strange new land to explore and climb first ascents, Lilliana decided she wanted to go to these mysterious places as well. By the time she was 11, she had traveled with me to 15 countries and six continents, and was even the youngest girl to do a ski expedition to Antarctica. (Watch An Education: A father/daughter trip of discovery.)

Final continent to meet her goal

At 9 years old, Lilliana declared she wanted to go to all seven continents by the time she was 12. Now age 11, she had only one continent to complete her goal and reach every continent by her target age: Africa. So we focused on her next trip and missing piece.

I asked her, “So what do you want to do in Africa – where should we go?” She decided that she wanted to try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and one of the Seven Summits. She had learned about Mount Kilimanjaro in fifth grade, as well as Tanzania, where Kilimanjaro is located. She also wanted to go on a safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater to see Africa’s animals in the wild.

So, of course, I started researching the trip.  Soon I connected with an acquaintance of mine, Dean Cardinale, the owner and founder of World Wide Trekking that arranges trips up Kilimanjaro and safaris to the Serengeti. When we were discussing the details, he told me about his non-profit foundation, The Human Outreach Project, and the orphanage he started in Tanzania near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro called the Kilimanjaro Kids Community.

Once he told me more about it, I asked if there was a way to do a humanitarian project for the orphanage on our expedition and if the kids there were in need of anything. It would be perfect because if you asked my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up she would tell you three things: a photographer, a writer and a humanitarian. She has done plenty of local efforts for humanitarianism, but this was a chance to do something on a bigger scale for some amazing children that were in need.

Once we discussed more, it was clear the orphanage needed solar energy for electricity and computers for education. Dean’s eyes lit up and he said, “Mike, the orphanage is desperate for exactly that, they need solar energy that provide lighting and electricity and computers, it would make their life complete.”

I told him about two of the companies I work closely with, the solar energy company Goal Zero and Dell; I already knew they both would be willing to support this project.

Dean mentioned that the school and church also needed these important supplies in order to enhance the quality of the orphans’ lives. Before long, we had worked out all the details for Goal Zero to ship all the necessary solar panels and solar generators – they even sent a crew to make sure all engineering logistics would be set up correctly. Dell got on board to send new Latitude laptops for the kids, complete with educational software.

Both my daughter and I were incredibly excited about the adventure ahead. If all went well it would be the trip of a lifetime in every way. Our plan was to first climb Kilimanjaro, then go to the orphanage and make sure all the solar energy was installed correctly, and set up the new computers for the kids, ending with a wild safari of joy.

Next stop: Tanzania

Just a few days after my daughter got out of school for the summer in early June, we boarded a plane from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam to Tanzania.  When we stepped off the plane onto the hot tarmac, she had officially completed her goal of her seventh continent. But, Lilliana protested, “Dad, this does not count, not until I stand on the summit of Kilimanjaro will I count this as my seventh continent!”

Before long we met with Dean and the World Wide Trekking crew in Arusha, Tanzania, and started organizing gear for our 40-mile trek that would hopefully take us to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at about 19,340 feet.  We also invited my brother, Andy (Uncle Andy), and my sister-in-law, Mylee (Aunt Mylee), to join us. We thought we would make it a family adventure – after all, sharing this with family would be another ultimate joy of reality.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was incredibly beautiful; with each 1,000 meters gained, there is a new ecosystem. We started in a rain forest, and within a few days, we were at high altitude in alpine conditions. It took us five days to reach 16,000 feet, which gave us all plenty of time to acclimate for the high-altitude summit push. Then at midnight of that fifth day on the mountain, we started the summit push.

Seven hours later, just as the sun was rising, we all slowly made our way to the 19,321-foot summit. It was one of the most beautiful visions I have witnessed: seeing my daughter work so hard and officially celebrate her seventh continent on the summit.

She yelled on the summit, “Life is marvelous!”  Then, as we hugged (and I cried like a child with tears of joy with a big smile) she said, “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy-O!” I could not be more proud of her. I am absolutely the happiest dad on Earth.

From summit to school

Two days later, we were back at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. We all got showers, had a huge celebration dinner, then headed directly to the orphanage the next morning. We brought the Dell laptops and met with a crew from Goal Zero to work on installing all the solar panels and generators.

We worked hard from sunrise to sunset for three days and ended up installing solar panels at the orphanage, church and school: nine different buildings would now have light and electricity.

We set up the new laptops, and as soon as we had them out of the boxes and operating, the kids immediately wanted to start learning to use them. Lilliana spent hours showing them how to play educational games and other programs. By the time we left, all the kids could use and operate the computers with ease. As my daughter says, “It was absolutely marvelous!”

We said goodbye to all the kids at the Kilimanjaro Kids Community with more tears of joy running down our cheeks and vowed to return again. These kids stole our hearts. I know this experience changed our lives forever.  Another reminder of the importance to give back to our people and planet.

“Lilliana told me, 'Dad, thank you for helping me live my dreams. This has changed me.'” – MIKE LIBECKI

‘She inspires me to inspire her’

We ended our expedition in Africa on a four-day safari to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti. I watched as my daughter was amazed and in awe of the beauty of the Maasai and Datoga citizens and all the incredible wildlife, giraffes, lions, leopard, hyena, hippos, zebras – we saw more than 60 different animals.

Lilliana told me, “Dad, thank you for helping me live my dreams. This has changed me. Do you think we can do a humanitarian project in Nepal next to help the earthquake victims?” I told her, “Absolutely, I will make it happen.” (We have already begun planning the next humanitarian trip to Nepal.)

My daughter inspires me. She inspires me to inspire her. I want to go bigger, do more, and succeed for her, and inspire her to do the same. A huge congratulations to my daughter on her seventh continent; she earned it and had to keep straight A’s and work hard for it.

She even won two grants (all on her own) to help make this trip possible. She won the Alta Ski Area Young Guns Grant and the American Alpine Club Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant – to both grants, we would like to say a huge monumental thanks for supporting this humanitarian project. We would also like to give huge appreciation to World Wide Trekking and the Human Outreach Project for everything they do.

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