PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was just a distant vision for Prescott resident Jane Morrill until she reached a milestone.
"I'm a hiker," she said, "not a mountain climber or a backpacker. But, there was something that drew me to that mountain. I have been to Africa and always wanted to go back."
On her 50th birthday this past May, her husband, Jim, encouraged her to give serious thought to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and when she coincidentally found out about Operation Mobilization's Freedom Climb, that was her jumping off point, she said.
Operation Mobilization is an international Christian organization in operation for more than 50 years. It serves 118 countries with the goal of confronting global injustices, especially against women, its website states.
The Freedom Climb grew out of the organization's mission and will especially focus on raising awareness and money to combat oppression, slavery, exploitation and global trafficking.
Morrill is one of 47 women who will make the climb, beginning on Jan. 11, 2012, with the ascent to the 19,340-foot summit, making it the world's highest freestanding mountain. The day the climb starts is significant because it is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States.
When Morrill expressed interest in the Freedom Climb, she was encouraged to read "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book lays out the outrages oppressing the world's women and three major abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence and honor killings and rapes; and maternal mortality.
This past summer, Morrill was captivated by "Half the Sky" and committed herself Freedom Climb's cause.
"I immediately had a burden for these women," Morrill said. "The book brought the problem to the forefront of my mind. When you are a privileged woman in the United States, I felt powerless to do anything, but when I committed to the climb, I thought that was the first step in becoming involved."
Morrill's companions on the climb range in age from 18 to 73 and they come from all over the world. Twenty-three of them met in Colorado Springs, Colo., in October where their host took them on a practice climb up 14,000-foot Pikes Peak.
"It went well," Morrill said, noting she has an advantage because she lives in mile-high Prescott.
On her own, Morrill has been preparing for the trek by hiking down the Grand Canyon and back in one day to find out what it would be like to be on her feet for eight-hour stretches, and she regularly hikes local areas.
And, during Prescott's first 17-degree cold spell, she slept in her new mummy bag on the deck of her home to test her resilience to the mount's temperatures that can hover in the low teens, she said.
The ascent will begin on the morning of Jan. 11 and end on Jan. 16, Morrill said, taking four days to reach the top and two days to descend. Each woman will carry her own personal items and water. They will camp along the way in tents, and mountain guides will bring food and help with gear, Morrill said. On the final day of the climb, the group will reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, watch the sunrise, take photos and head back down. Uhuru is the peak's name, which is a Swahili word for freedom.
"We thought this was pretty awesome to bring freedom to women," Morrill said.
In order to finance their effort, the women are paying their own expenses and each is raising $10,000 for Operation Mobilization's cause. So far, friends and family have given $6,500 to the climb in Morrill's name, she said.
People who want to know more about the Freedom Climb, see the projects, sponsor a climber, get involved or give support may log onto www.thefreedomclimb.net.
By joining the women in the climb, Morrill said she will "have the opportunity to connect with other women and together speak for those who are being crushed and see that they receive the justice and human decencies they deserve."
Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com