When we caught up with Dylan Palladino after he summited Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, in June, the unstoppable 14-year-old was thrilled to have reached his fundraising target of $125,000. Dylan’s “Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger” campaign will ensure two meals a day for 6,400 children at Caring for Cambodia’s 21 schools. Before heading off to spend the rest of his vacation teaching English at an orphanage in India, this incredible teenager, who is in Grade 10 at the Singapore American School, talked to Expat Living about his climb.Click through the snaps above to see Dylan in action
Why did you choose to support Caring For Cambodia (CFC) through your climb?
I’d visited and supported over 15 schools in six countries, but the first time I walked into a CFC school three years ago, I was surprised and overwhelmed. The classrooms were filled with school supplies, the walls were covered with educational materials, and the students were engaged in learning.
Later, I told my mom how impressed I was: it was like no other school I’d visited in any developing country. But I was not sure what they could possibly need from me. I realised the kids at CFC schools are getting not only an education, but a life-changing, world-class education. These kids will not only dream about college, they will be my peers on the playing field, in the boardroom and in the political arena. That’s when my commitment to CFC and my contribution towards funding school meals began.
When did you decide on Kilimanjaro? And why?
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a dream I’ve had since I was nine years old when I spent time working with the Masai tribe at the base of Kilimanjaro with my mom. Five years later it finally happened. I’ve been lucky to spend lots of time in Africa, and Tanzania is my favourite country. While the massive, snow-capped mountain looks daunting, it’s possible to climb it at my age if you’re committed to it mentally and physically. Since my fundraising goal was so high, I thought: Why not start with the world’s highest freestanding mountain, and Africa’s highest mountain?
How did you train for the climb?
At 5,895 metres (19,340 feet), Kilimanjaro must be taken seriously. Luckily an altitude-training centre (altitude.sg) opened in Singapore five months before the climb. The owner, Stan, and his team did an amazing job in assisting my physical training and preparing me for any altitude sickness issues.
How long was the climb and who were you with?
It was a seven-day climb to the Roof of Africa. Some people rush the mountain in six days, but seven gives you a better success rate (only 40 percent make it overall) for summiting and reduces your chances of suffering altitude sickness. Our group included my mom, Denise, an American guide, Craig from International Mountain Guides (mountainguides.com), two Tanzanian lead guides (you must climb with local guides) and eight local porters.
It costs 10 cents a day to feed a child attending a Caring For Cambodia school. Providing two meals a day at school boosts attendance, decreases illness and minimises the risk that children will be kept out of school to work, or sent away to unknown fates. The $125,000 raised by Dylan will feed 6,600 students every day for one year, a total of 2.8 million meals.
Was it easier, or more difficult, than you expected?
It was the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life, both physically and mentally. Physically, it was blisters and stomach-aches, which are common at high altitude; I lost my appetite the last few days, and lost a few pounds. It was harder and much colder than I expected, too.
The final summit day was the most difficult, without question. Anticipating a 16 to 18 hour day was hard to imagine, but we awoke at 11pm, put on our game faces and conquered the beast! Breathing was difficult due to the high altitude, temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius and wind gusts of about 20mph.
What were your thoughts when you reached the summit?
I find it hard to explain what reaching the summit on 14 June was like. The seven-day climb was an emotional and powerful experience, and forced me to find strength I never thought I had. As I approached Uhuru Peak I was choked up, but when we saw the last hundred metres the thought hit me that I would finally stand on the Roof of Africa. The view was amazing! I thought of all the people that supported and believed in the Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger cause. I was so proud of what we had accomplished.
When did you know you had hit the $125,000 target?
I found out just after finishing the climb, when my mom checked the fundraising page. I’ve never been prouder or more humble. Over the last eight months, hundreds of people I didn’t know realised the power they had to transform lives, and they did just that. If we put our hearts and mind to it, the impossible is possible.
How did your supporters help out?
There were lots of great fundraising initiatives, including a private fundraising event at the Mandarin Oriental hosted by Mr and Mrs Yem; a runner in the Great Wall of China marathon; a lemonade stand; and a Read to End Hunger event at the Singapore American School. Hard Rock Café held a Drink to End Hunger campaign, Señor Taco held an Eat to End Hunger campaign; there was also a Cook to End Hunger campaign by Expat Kitchen. Schools including Chatsworth, Tanglin Trust and Little Oaks Montessori held fundraising events. And many, many kids and families collected jars of change that helped contribute to the total.
Where does your passion for helping out the less fortunate come from?
For as long as I can remember, service has been a part of my life. Travelling around the world with my mom made me realise how interconnected we all are. Although I grew up in New York City, my world included the slums of Nairobi, HIV clinics in Soweto and evacuation camps in Haiti.
Seeing the inequity of the world didn’t make me feel sorry for these kids. They didn’t want my pity; they wanted a hand-up, not a hand-out. They wanted a way forward, a way out of the slums, an education. I realised I wanted to be part of the solution!
How to donate
Dylan plans to visit Cambodia later this year with some of his supporters to mark their fundraising achievement. The Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger campaign is still accepting donations; see more photos of the climb and donate here.
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