This quote immediately came to my mind the moment I read about this simple man with a high thinking. His thinking was so high that he scaled the highest peak of Africa – the Mount Kilimanjaro.

One would say what is so great about climbing the Kilimanjaro, so many have conquered its peak over the years and many more will do it in the time to come.

The difference between them and this man is that he is the first Tanzanian to climb the Kilimanjaro in a wheel-chair. He is none other than the Country’s pride – Deogratius Chami.

Deogratius, more lovingly known by his friends and family as ‘Deo’, aged 29 and a student from Moshi, became a victim of paraplegic at the tender age of 14. An age where most of us would have lost interest in life or I would not be wrong to say that life would come to an end, except for people like Deo who have a giant of a will power. He always dreamt to climb Kilimanjaro and nothing deterred him, not even this disease, which he made it appear a small hurdle in his life and thus jumped over it and continued his mission to convert his dream into a reality.

January 29, 2014, time 11:30am, Deo wrote history by ascending the 5,895 metres high Uhuru peak after two and half hour of breathtaking slow walk from Stellar point. This reminded me of a quote from the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”, where Lawrence says “Nothing is written” in other words – the slate is clean – put your impression on it for others to be inspired and follow you. Deo knowingly or unknowingly wrote an impression on the minds and hearts of hundreds and thousands of Tanzanians who suffer from various types of disabilities but will now have the confidence and to say – IF HE COULD DO IT, SO CAN WE……

How did it began…

Colin Powell once said –
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work”.

For Deo it was an uphill task to achieve his dream, such as what tools would he need, how many porters would he require to assist him; how would his health react as they go into thinner air; how much would it cost, and so on and so forth.

“Fortune favours the brave” and so it did to Deo, who was brave enough to dream a Herculine feat and more importantly to turn it into reality that God did favour him by bringing him in contact with a French NGO called CHEMINDESSENS, who embarked on this project and titled it KILIHANDY.

Isabelle Chemin, a French artist who runs the NGO and Abel Beimoja, a senior tourist guide, who have worked together since April 2013 to ensure that this trek to the top was a success. It started with first convincing Deo’s parents and Doctors that the trip was going to be well planned taking into account each and every major and minor points of attention.

The Journey…..

The first and foremost tool that was key to Deo’s climbing was a modified / specially designed wheel-chair called “Joelette”. A product of France, “Joelette” is a comfortable, super-light specially designed, adjustable all terrain wheel chair, with a mono-wheel, two shafts, headrest, comfortable chair, safety belt and leg rest. Isabelle was able to use her organisation to find financial sponsors who not only helped pay for the trek but also the material and clothes for Deo.

The General Council of Alpes-Maritimes donated this particular Joelette which was transported by Swiss International Air Line at no cost and without any hurdles.

CHEMINDESSENS is currently working hand in hand with Alliance Franco-Tanzanienne (l’Alliance Francaise) in Arusha to make the Joelette available to all who need it. It is helpful especially because so many places are not comfortable for disabled people but with this chair more places will become disabled-friendly. It would also boost tourism as more people can access opportunity to be involved in treks upto the tops of Mt. Kilimanjaro or Mt. Meru.

Apart from the Joelette, Deo just needed good warm mountain equipment and a very high moral and pleasure to discover the beauty of the world.

He opted for the Marangu route, which took him 5 days to ascend and 2 days to descend, in all a journey of 7 days vis-à-vis 5 days taken by a normal climber. It was an emotional moment for all as the team comprised of Deo and a few blind climbers from France and one in particular was deaf and blind. They all scaled the summit thus proving to the world – “Where there is a will there is a way”.

Behind the success of every man is a woman and in this case too there was a woman, Ms. Isabelle who organized the entire itinerary and the tools for Deo to climb, was jubilant and emotional upon Deo’s achievement.

A diploma holder from School of Arts, she started her social service since year 2000 between art, culture and disability. In 2012, she scaled the summit with Dominque Veran (the first French disabled woman) and since then this mountain has become a symbol of admiration for her to an extent that she even made a film on it. She is one of those women who doesn’t sit and enjoy her past laurels but always on the move to do something extra-ordinary every time.

So while Deo and fellow Tanzanians enjoy this feat, Isabelle goes back to her drawing board to prepare for the next historic moment for Tanzania.

By Isabella Chemin