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Climbing for a cause

BC grads' fundraising climb a success

Some travel to the African continent to see it's natural beauty. Some go there to battle the overwhelming poverty in many areas. Others go there to do both.

That's what group of college students, including Bethlehem Central graduates Kevin Welch and Katie O'Leary, did in January, as they traveled as to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as part of a fundraiser aimed at combating a curable medical condition that afflicts thousands of African women.

The Fistula Free Climb group, headquartered at Cornell University, where O'Leary is a student, raised $8,000 over the course of a few months, and will continue to raise money. The group's trip was aimed at raising money to combat obstetric fistulas, a predominantly third world complication that usually arises during childbirth when modern medicine is not available. A tear between the vagina and rectum or bladder can develop, leading to infection and other complications.

This usually leads to social ostracization and eventual death for thousands of women every year. Perhaps the most unfortunate part is that an operation to reverse the fistula can cost as little as $250.

The Spotlight first reported on the trip in October 2009. Local donors gave approximately $300, said Welch.

While the group did not achieve its $100,000 goal, the team still raised enough the theoretically fund up to 32 operations, and is still accepting donations. The plan is to make the journey an annual event and keep fundraising year-round.

Welch said he would continue his fundraising efforts, perhaps with hopes of climbing another mountain next year.

I'd like to go back It inspires me to want to do more. I want to raise more, he said.

The team witnessed the widespread affliction of obstetric fistulas in Tanzania before beginning their climb as they volunteered at two area hospitals. One was a facility with modern equipment while the other was a bush hospital lacking even the most basic amenities.

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