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McGill students take on Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for daycare centre

From left to right, Roderick Mackinnon, school principal Maria Nthalla, Thomas Prévost and director of Cross Connect Kyle Tolman. Prévost and Mackinnon are raising funds for Nthalla's early childhood develpment centre in Munsieville Township, South Africa.
From left to right, Roderick Mackinnon, school principal Maria Nthalla, Thomas Prévost and director of Cross Connect Kyle Tolman. Prévost and Mackinnon are raising funds for Nthalla's early childhood develpment centre in Munsieville Township, South Africa. Courtesy Thomas Prévost

Roderick Mackinnon and Thomas Prévost have just set off on a seven-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro on Wednesday.

The adventure, however, started four months ago when the McGill management students were accepted into the Global Impact Program fellowship.

“We basically worked as social impact consultants with various NGOs, NPOs and social enterprises in South Africa, mainly around Johannesburg,” explained Mackinnon from his hotel room in Tanzania.

At the time, the 22-year-olds figured that since they would be in Africa anyway, why not try and climb the continent’s highest peak?

“It seemed like a cool experience and something we were both really interested in doing,” Mackinnon said.

READ MORE: One man’s story about perseverance, making a difference in young people’s lives

But then, as their fellowships got underway, their focus began to shift.

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“Throughout the summer, as we were working really closely with early childhood development centres, the idea kind of came to us: Why don’t we hike for a cause?” Mackinnon said.

That’s when the Kili for Kids trek began to take shape.

While in South Africa, both Mackinnon and Prévost visited various early childhood development (ECD) centres, which cater to preschool kids up to age six.

The pair explained that many of the daycares are located in financially impoverished areas and it’s often difficult for parents to pay the monthly tuition.

That, in turn, leaves centres in a precarious financial situation and struggling to stay afloat.

READ MORE: Defying the odds and climbing mountains to advance SMA research

Prévost said the government does offer funding but only to ECDs that meet certain criteria.

“To become government compliant, you have to have certain standards: you have to have a ceiling, a flat terrain, you have to be able to pay minimum wage to the employees,” he said.

Mackinnon’s assessment revealed that many of the ECDs operate at a deficit, putting compliance out of reach.

“Any money that they do get goes directly to buying food and stationery material for the children,” he said. “They don’t actually have enough money to put aside to start renovating their building so as to become government compliant.”

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Moncton woman climbs Kilimanjaro to keep a promise to her late husband
Moncton woman climbs Kilimanjaro to keep a promise to her late husband

Government funding is key in ensuring ECDs are sustainable, Mackinnon said.

“If they have this steady stream, they can guarantee that they can pay their employees minimum wage and buy food for their students,” he said.

By working in the field and observing some of the challenges first-hand, the pair became motivated to make a difference that extended beyond the scope of their fellowship.

They’re hoping to raise funds for the Boitshoko daycare centre, which is in desperate need of repairs, as it fights to remain open and access much-need government funding.

“A lot of these kids start off at such a disadvantage and the fact that we can have a direct impact in not only their future, but the future of countless other kids who will attend the school… I feel we kind of owe it to them to give them that chance,” said Prévost.

As they began scaling the mountain on Wednesday, the pair had reached 60 per cent of their fundraising goal with 12 days to go.

For more information and updates, visit the Kili for Kids page.

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The renovation project will be overseen by a local South African non-profit organization called Cross Connect Community Outreach.