By LEANN BURKE
IRELAND — For Charlotte Olson of Ireland, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro just feels right.
In about two weeks, the 2011 Jasper High School graduate will board a plane, fly to the African country of Tanzania and meet up with 10 other women she’s never met before to spend nine days trekking up the side of Mount Kilimanjaro — a dormant volcano — to an altitude of 19,000 feet. It’s all to raise money for Africa New Life Ministries, a Rwandan organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty for Rwandans through education.
The daughter of Lauri and Richard Olson, Charlotte got involved with Africa New Life in 2018 through her church, Redemption Christian Church in Jasper. She’d been planning to travel to Ireland at the time, she said, but she couldn’t bring herself to make a deposit on the trip. Something just didn’t feel right, she remembers. Then, at church one Sunday, she found out that Redemption was planning a mission trip through Africa New Life. Charlotte got a little more information about the trip and the organization, then immediately made a deposit to go.
“Everything felt at peace,” she said of the decision. “Everything felt right.”
Later, she explored Africa New Life’s website and stumbled across a sponsorship program the organization runs for the children in its schools. She saw a photo of one little girl, and for the next few days, she couldn’t get the girl out of her head. She signed up to sponsor that little girl.
On her first trip to Rwanda, Charlotte met the girl she’s sponsoring, saw Africa New Life’s facilities — a school for children, a college where women learn a trade to become financially independent, a theology school and a hospital. She also found out about the Kilimanjaro treks the mission organizes to raise money for its meal program that feeds the children.
Once again, Charlotte was all in.
Her reason for going is simple: she’s here on Earth, she can afford to do this and she wants to help.
“I’ve always had a heart for people,” she said. “I want others to feel seen, and I can help do that.”
Participants in the climb pay all their expenses out of pocket, then they raise funds specifically for the meal program. Each meal costs 83 cents, and often the children receiving the meal only eat at school.
To raise funds, Charlotte set up an online fundraiser that can be found at www.purecharity.com/kilimanjaro-2020-food-campaign-by-charlotte-olso-1. To donate on Pure Charity, Charlotte said people have to make an account. For people who don’t want to do that, she has set up a Facebook page where people can donate, Charlotte’s Kilimanjaro Fundraiser.
Charlotte stressed that all the funds she raises go to the meal program, not her trip expenses.
To prepare for the trek, she said she did a lot of research to figure out what to pack and has been doing a lot of walking uphills at the Parklands and on treadmills set at the highest incline.
Even though she didn’t grow up an outdoorsy kid, she loves being outdoors. She got into hiking and camping in college at the University of Alabama and soon after set her sights on climbing a mountain.
Mountains are a symbol for her.
“I’ve always thought of challenges as mountains,” she said. “My philosophy is, ‘This is your mountain. You’ve been assigned this mountain to prove it can be climbed.’”
Although the trek up Kilimanjaro will be Charlotte’s first long hiking trip, she said she’s not worried about anything.
“It’s weird, but I’m so at peace,” she said. “I’m sure I could have trained more. I’m sure I could have researched more. But I’m not worrying about it.”
The peace, she said, comes from knowing she’s meant to do this. She can’t wait to board that plane and head out.