THE LATE IAN McKeever had a dream of setting up an school in Africa – and now an orphanage in his name has been opened, a year following his untimely death.
McKeever, a popular and well-loved adventurer, was killed at the age of 42 after being struck by lightning while leading a group on Kilimanjaro.
His cousin, Judy McKeever, went to Tanzania in October 2013 and visited the orphanage built in his name: the Ian McKeever & Global Empathy Now CHETI Orphanage.
She said that Ian’s dream for the orphanage “stemmed from his passion for youth health and empowerment through education, both here in Ireland and in Africa”.
Judy explained that in 2010, Ian founded Kilimanjaro Achievers (KA) to enable young people from Ireland to climb the highest mountain in Africa while raising money for Irish and African charities.
He supported, trained, and guided hundreds of people of all ages to the summit of Kilimanjaro and raised thousands of euro for charity, said his cousin.
“Ian’s dream was always to set up a school in Tanzania,” said Judy.
In Tanzania 89 per cent of people live below the international poverty line and there is no free education system for children. In Arusha, one of Tanzania’s largest cities, the majority of people are surviving on around $1 a day and simply cannot afford to send their children to school.
She said that CHETI (Children Health & Education Team Inspiration), under the direction of Zuma Ephrem Mtui, was chosen as partner by Ian as it is run by a Tanzanian for Tanzanians.
To date, they have built five schools,including four nurseries and one primary schools, and there are a total of 550 children attending CHETI schools.
The Ian McKeever & Global Empathy Now CHETI Orphanage is home to 36 children and is for children who have lost one or both parents to accidents or HIV. There are an estimated 1.3 million orphaned children in Tanzania due to AIDs.
“CHETI provides AIDS testing for all its students,” said Judy.
The orphanage enables the children to grow up in a nurturing environment with an emphasis on their education. For most of the children, their education (including meals, uniform and books) are provided through generous sponsorship from people all over the world.
Following Ian’s death, Mike O’Shea took on the role of leading Kilimanjaro Achievers to the summit of Kilimanjaro. “He committed to not only fulfilling the promises Ian had made in terms of the climbs, but also to continue his dream for the orphanage in the place he loved so much, “said Judy.
All monies raised to date for the orphanage was spent on the building project.
Many of the Irish school groups who climbed with Kilimanjaro Achievers also visited one of the CHETI schools, and a number of the guides and porters who work with KA are former CHETI pupils.
In 2014, the team want to complete the orphanage’s kitchen and toilets, and add a library to the school.
Judy travelled to Tanzania to visit the orphanage and school, and spent time with Ian’s friends Rob, Sam, Said and Aloyce, who took her to some of Ian’s favourite haunts in Arusha.
She was introduced to Isaak, outside Ian’s favourite bar, The Empire Sports Bar. Isaak is a young man who is HIV positive. “He told me that at a time in his life when was he was very poor, feeling low, no one respected him, that Ian befriended him, he bought him beers and they played pool together regularly,” said Judy.
Isaak has been able to make some money working in the mines and he is one of the lucky people who can afford to get treatment. He bought bracelets “for Ian’s mama and papa”, one of which reads ‘pole pole’ (slowly slowly), the mantra chanted when climbing Kilimanjaro. The other reads ‘Uhuru’, (freedom), the name of the highest peak.
Isaak so badly wanted Ian’s mama and papa to have something to show his appreciation for Ian’s friendship and for them to know how much he loved Ian and misses him every day. I cried, he cried, we held each other for a long time. At that moment I have never felt so proud to be Ian McKeever’s cousin.
In October 2014, Judy will return to Tanzania and, she said: “Will visit the orphanage, spend time with Ian’s friends who miss him so much, and maybe shoot some pool with Isaak.”
All photos: Judy McKeever