Lawyer organizes Mount Kilimanjaro climb for literacy

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in The Lawyers Daily by Carolyn Gruske (January 4, 2018)

Chris BredtVery few people ever get to summit a mountain. Even fewer have the opportunity to do so multiple times. This summer, Chris Bredt intends to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro for the fourth time — and to do so while raising money for charity.

Bredt, a senior litigation partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and a bencher with the Law Society of Ontario, is also a board member of the CODE Foundation, an organization that manages the endowment fund for the Canadian Organization for Development through Education, better known as CODE. CODE is a Canadian international development organization focused on advancing literacy and education around the world. Although it runs one program in Canada that produces literature for First Nations, Inuit and Métis young adults, and one in the Caribbean, most of its work is done in African countries including Mali, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania (among others), helping to train teachers and to produce and make books available in local languages.

The education of women and girls is also a priority for CODE, said Bredt.

“The power of education, in essence, you are building up the human resources of these countries and in the long run, that is going to do more for development than any other program there. Education is the key, and particularly, education of women and girls. The importance of educating a girl or a woman in Africa ... can’t be overstated. The girls that are educated, their kids are better educated, their kids are healthier, it does huge amounts for development.”

To support that education, Bredt is once again organizing a fundraising climb of the famous African mountain. Set for July, the Summit for Literacy, will see Bredt and the climbers spending seven days hiking up to the summit of the mountain (Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb, it is typically considered a trek that is walkable) on the Lemosho Route, which starts on the far western part of the mountain and two days descending the mountain.

Over the course of the climb, Bredt said participants will experience an incredible range of sights.

"Kilimanjaro is right on the equator, so each day is quite different. When you start off on your first day, you are climbing through a tropical jungle. You don’t see the mountain. You are hiking through a forest. You might see some black-and-white colobus monkeys, and there are blue monkeys there. The first night, you camp in the forest. The second day you would climb out of the forest through what’s called the heathland. At the end of day two, you come over a ridge and you’re on the Shira plateau ... you actually first see the mountain because you have to get up out of the forest before you actually see the summit. On the Shira plateau, it’s actually like a savannah, like grasslands. As you go higher, you get to an alpine desert.

“Obviously, when you get to the summit there are still glaciers and ice fields up there, although I have to say, every time I go the ice is less, it’s going higher up the mountain. I expect that maybe 20 or 30 years from now there’s not going to be much ice left at the top of Kilimanjaro at all,” he said.

Bredt, who is in his early 60s, said that every climber who has accompanied him on past excursions to the mountain has made it to the summit, which is important when the goal is to raise funds, and that he has taken people ranging in age from 15 to 68.

“The only difficult part about climbing Kilimanjaro is acclimatizing to the elevation. It’s quite high. It’s about 19,400 feet. So the longer you take to give your body an opportunity to acclimatize, the more likely you are to get to the summit.”

While it may not be what Bredt calls difficult, the climb does pose some challenges beyond a simple walk in the park.

“When you do the climb, it’s like a community. Everybody is helping everybody. You can’t do the climb without becoming really good friends with people you are spending time on the mountain with. There are some tough days when everybody really digs in together. You’re eating dinner and you’re spending a lot of time chatting. Everybody who has come on the climb has had quite an experience, both in terms of getting to the summit, but also in terms of the people they’ve met but also getting to know Tanzania,” said Bredt.

Since organizing the first climb in 2006 and following up with summits in 2010 and 2014, Bredt said climbers have raised over $1 million, including matching funds from government programs.

People who want to participate pay their own way to Tanzania, buy their own equipment and commit to raising at least $5,000. The money is collected via individualized websites set up by CODE for each climber.

Typically, Bredt said participants spend between $8,000 and $10,000 on the trip, as most people undertake a safari after the climb, since some of the country’s top game parks, including Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, are nearby. Additionally, Bredt said he could arrange visits to the schools benefitting from the CODE programs.

Lawyers have made up a large percentage of the climbers in the past, and it looks like the legal community will be well represented this year.

Currently, Elizabeth Grace, a partner at Lerners LLP; Susan Vella, senior litigation counsel and practice group leader, sexual and institutional abuse and Aboriginal rights groups at Rochon Genova LLP; John O’Reilly, vice-president, legal counsel, labour, employment and litigation at Loblaw Companies Limited; Herman Van Ommen, past president of the Law Society of British Columbia; and Jeff Kehoe, director of enforcement for the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) are scheduled to take part.

“The more people who sign up, the more money you raise and it’s more successful,” Bredt said.

Chris Bredt with students

“Once you actually go and visit the schools and see the work that is being done, it deepens the commitment: you can’t come away without saying, ‘we’re making a difference here.’ ”

While some may question what benefit or enjoyment Bredt gets after making multiple trips to the same destination, he said there is a very simple reason why he keeps journeying up the mountain and raising money.

“These kids are so eager to learn. In Canada, we take for granted books and things. They don’t have a lot of that stuff in countries where we work, and if you actually go and you see these kids, they get so excited when they get the books and pencils. It’s very inspiriting. It’s part of why I keep doing that. Because I’m a reasonably successful lawyer, but I’m not always sure I’m making a huge difference, but I tell you, when you go to Africa and you visit the schools, you know you are making a huge difference.”


Friday, January 5, 2018