Though the adventure of a lifetime on Mount Kilimanjaro ended more than a year ago, for two Mount Sinai emergency physicians, an unexpected turn of events on the mountain left an indelible mark. They are now asking for the community’s help to ensure a better future for the child they found lost and cold at 14,000 feet.
Robert (with guide) after being rescued in September 2012
Summit for Sinai was a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa in September 2012 led by adventurer and passionate Mount Sinai supporter, David Cynamon. Thirteen climbers, including emergency physicians Drs. Bjug Borgundvaag and Howard Ovens, climbed one of the world’s highest mountains, raising an incredible $1.37 million for Mount Sinai Hospital in the process.
During their quest, the group came across a six-year-old boy named Robert* who had become lost and disoriented after being sent from his village to cut grass to feed his family’s livestock. He had been wandering without food or water for several days wearing only a sweatshirt, torn pants and sandals in cold and difficult conditions.
Drs. Borgundvaag and Ovens immediately administered first aid and medical assistance to Robert and once he was well enough, sent him back down the mountain with their guides to get him home safely. While the group went on and successfully completed the climb and celebrated their significant achievements, for the physicians, Robert never left their thoughts. They felt the boy had shown unusual courage and resilience, but despite the attention the story received, they knew little about him and had no way of contacting him or his family.
With the help of Kapange Kaen, one of the guides from their trip, the physicians were determined to locate Robert. After several long months of searching in nearby villages and bringing the boy’s photo to local churches, Kapange was able to locate Robert in a small village close to the base of Kilimanjaro, where he lives with his twin sister. Their mother abandoned the family and their father lives nearby but leaves most of the parenting to a kind older neighbour. The family is very poor and their living conditions are challenging.
Robert (left) with his sister and their kind neighbour/caregiver
Upon hearing of Robert’s circumstance, the doctors spent the next year trying to find a way to directly provide support to Robert and his family. They finally connected with Childreach Tanzania, a locally-registered charity. Touched by the story, the executives at Childreach Tanzania agreed to work with the doctors to help Robert and his family. As a result, Drs. Borgundvaag and Ovens have personally committed to supporting Robert and his family until he is grown. This includes covering costs such as food, clothing, school fees and supplies for the family.
Robert and his sister with children from their village
In a wonderful side note to this story, Childreach Tanzania, which was not previously active in Robert’s village, needed to find a reliable monitor to locally supervise the administration of support and ensure that the programs goals were being met. After some discussion, Kapange, the local guide who was present when Robert was found and who later tracked him down – therefore already having a strong connection to him and his family – agreed to fulfill this important role.
(L to R): Robert’s father, Robert and Kapange (guide)
Childreach Tanzania believes improving the life of a child requires improving their family’s circumstances as well as their community. In addition to their ongoing personal commitment to Robert and his family, Drs. Borgundvaag and Ovens have also agreed to help fundraise for the village, and this is where they need your help. These funds will help the children of this poor village have a chance at a better life. Your gift can provide much-needed resources for their schools – simple items such as books and school clothes, or bigger projects like training teachers, providing running water or building a school kitchen, additional classrooms or more washrooms (their school currently has a ratio of 100 children to one washroom).
When David Cynamon, the driver behind Summit for Sinai, found out about this special initiative, he was one of the first to offer his support. However, Robert and his community need your support too.
To make donating as easy as possible, Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation has arranged to accept donations for this initiative - Summit for Sinai Gives Back - and direct all funds to Childreach Tanzania, earmarked for Robert and his family. Click here to donate today.
Your gift will help change the lives of a whole community. Thank you for your support!
Drs. Bjug Borgundvaag and Howard Ovens are emergency physicians at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre. Dr. Borgundvaag is the Director of the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Medicine Institute and Dr. Howard Ovens is the Director of the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
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