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(Editor’s note: ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ED DEAN)
It was a high school dream and a birthday gift from his wife Amy that set Ed Dean on his charitable quest and transformed him from a computer geek to adventure photographer.
“In 2007, Amy and I looked at where we were. Financially, we were doing ok,” Dean said. “We were both in high tech and I was getting pretty tired of it. I decided to go back to my childhood dream of being an adventure photographer.”
Dean got a taste of adventure in the early 1990s when he and a few friends hiked to the top of Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. Heavy winds stalled them for three days at 40 degrees below zero temperatures. To survive he and his hiking companions built a snow cave remaining inside the shelter for three days. When they emerged, they decided to head home.
RESPONSIBILITY VS. ADVENTURE
“I realized I can’t risk myself with kids,” he said. “I threw myself into raising the family.” Dean and his wife have two girls, Danielle and Tara, both now grown.
In support of her husband’s wanderlust, Amy gave Dean the present of a bicycle trip across South Africa in 2010 for his 50th birthday. In addition, friends of Amy arranged for Dean to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He made it to the summit and returned the next year and climbed it again.
INSPIRATION TO REACH OUT
Inspired by the late actor, Paul Newman, and his Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with serious health problems, Dean became enamored with the idea of making a difference in others’ lives. At Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, he climbed with the help of porters and guides. By climbing with the locals, Dean said he was able to connect with people that he otherwise might not have gotten to know.
It was their children he sought to help.
“We want to raise adults that turn around and help their families,” he said. “It’s about finding kids who have the desire to go forward.”
The guides and porters lived at the base of Kilimanjaro in a village of tiny shacks with corrugated roofs and minimal electricity, Dean said.
Dean learned from them that they, like most parents, wanted to provide a good education for their children. But they didn’t have the financial earning power to make it happen. Believing that the regional public schools lacked quality educators, Dean was ready to help.
“They were trying to get their kids into private institutions. The problem was,…they make next to nothing and (climbing the mountain as porters) is really hard work,” Dean said. “Porters don’t speak English. The work is spotty, giving them six to eight weeks of work per year.”
A CHARITY TAKES SHAPE
Dean took all the guides and porters out to dinner one night in 2011 after reaching the summit. Climb4aChild was coming together.
For the current school year, Dean identified eight qualified students whose families could not afford the better educational system, and shopped for a school which taught the internationally accredited Cambridge curriculum.
Dean said the education at Khan Academy, as compared to an area public school, is significantly better.
“Our mission is to raise fully formed, functional adults capable of functioning at an international level,” Dean added.
The charity is focused on the children of the Mt. Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania and the Maasai natives of the East African coast of Kenya. Dean and helpers like Liz Miller, a 2006 Westford Academy graduate, visit the region and immerse themselves in the culture, noting what is needed and how the children could be best helped. He rented a four-bedroom house in the Kilimanjaro region and handpicked eight students to live there. Then he hired an English-as-a- Second Language teacher who lives in nearby Arusha to oversee the students during the day. The student’s expenses are paid by sponsors. When Miller visited Tanzania recently, she also helped to get a cell tower built so the students could have access to the internet.
Dean believes that an accredited education program will spare the next generation in this region from becoming porters for mountain climbers with no opportunity for long-term, steady jobs or higher earnings.
HIGH STAKES FOR THE STUDENTS
One fall morning 18 months ago in his Graniteville Road home, Dean sat in an armchair connecting via computer software with one or two of the students whose education was being sponsored. The stakes are high for these teens. Dean does not coddle them, insisting that they learn through life experiences as much as through book knowledge.
“Pretty soon, all our kids will have a bank account and ATM card,” Dean said. “If you don’t do what’s expected, you’re out. We’re at the stage where our kids will also determine who makes it or not.”
Then he softened.
“Everybody is basically the same,” Dean said. “Everyone wants a better life, than their parents had.”
To that end, sponsors provide about $2,000 per year per child to send the student to the acclaimed online Khan Academy. Relationships are forged when he brings wealthy adventurers to Kilimanjaro for the purpose of meeting the students and their families.
“I never asked anybody for a penny,” Dean said. “The money goes right to the workers.”
HOW IT BEGAN
He began the charity at Kilimanjaro by running up the mountain and hiding while hikers ascended. Dean would take their pictures and give them the photos.
“I did it for free and it was all about growing the charity,” he said.
A MIRACULOUS RECOVERY
But after a fall from a bike in April 2012, Dean found himself in a wheelchair unable to move his arms or legs. A fighter and athlete, Dean miraculously walked out of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital after two months of intense therapy.
MEET THE STUDENTS
Today, Climb for a Child has a couple of superstar students who show promise of going beyond a high school education. Kayiok Losos, a Maasai native was hand picked by Dean to come to Westford and attend Westford Academy while living in Dean’s family home. Discussions took place with WA school administrators in September 2019, but when the pandemic hit, talks ended, Dean said.
“We’d still entertain doing that,” Dean said. “We need cultural exchange.”
Also living in the house with Losos are students Dorcas Kennedy, Upendo Alpha Mangowi, Eliya Yohana Hozza, and Abigail Mangowi.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Dean realizes he can’t save every deserving student in Kenya and Tanzania, but he knows he can make a difference.
He points to the parable of a washed-ashore starfish drying on the sand, certain to die without water. A boy picks it up and tosses it into the ocean. A man passing by, comments.
“What difference does it make to save that starfish when there are so many more on the sand? You can’t save all of them,” the man said.
“It makes a difference to that one,” said the boy.
Dean can be reached by email at [email protected].