Climbing Kilimanjaro for Kamathipura

US baseball players climb Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money to help sex workers in Kamathipura, Mumbai's red light district

It can't get more global. Three Americans climbing a mountain in Africa to help sex workers of Kamathipura in Mumbai.

RA Dickey, a baseball player, who plays for New York Mets; Kevin Slowey, another baseball player for The Cleveland Indians and David Racaniello, bullpen catcher (see box) for New York Mets undertook an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, to raise approximately Rs 45 lakh ($100,000) for Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC), a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Mumbai.

BTC has been working in Mumbai's red light district, Kamathipura for over two decades now.

Established in 1990 by KK Devraj, the NGO has been working to rescue and rehabilitate women trapped in prostitution and their children. "Funds raised will be utilised for medical work in the area," said Devraj.

Perseverance: RA Dickey while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Dickey first heard about BTC and Kamathipura in 2009. "One of my friends casually mentioned it to me during a conversation and that got me interested. Then I met KK Devraj through a common friend in Atlanta after a match. I heard of the work BTC was doing. I wanted to contribute in whichever way I could. It was a worthy outreach I believed," said Dickey in a telephonic interview from Nashville, Tennessee in the US. The decision to climb Mt Kilimanjaro was not his alone. He had to consult his family and friends before committing himself. He also got two of his friends, Racaniello and Slowey on board.

"I am not someone who is easily deterred, but I also wanted to make sure that what I was doing shouldn't jeopardize my career as a baseball player. And when I explained everything to my friends and family members, they were happy about it," he said.

Summit: (From Left) RA Dickey, Dave Racaniello, and Kevin Slowey on
the top of Mt Kilimanjaro

Dickey's close friend, Slowey too went ahead with the climb because, "It was an opportunity that I believed in. After Dickey told me about the  project, I thought that I should go ahead with it. My family members in the beginning were a bit skeptical, but when I explained to them the purpose of the climb, they were fine with it. Infact my sisters, aged 17 and 21 were my motivation factor for the climb. I looked at them and just felt how blessed they are to have such a wonderful life. On the contrary, I was wondering about what sort of life girls of
same age in Kamathipura were leading."

Racaniello too found stories of Kamathipura revealing and shocking. About his trip, Racaniello said during a telephonic interview from New York, "RA Dickey set up the entire trip. It was his baby. He told me about the cause and it was such a great cause. We met KK Devraj last year and he gave us all the information about BTC and the sort of work they were doing. I was infact surprised that I hadn't heard about the place earlier. In fact, when I read up on the net, I was shocked to actually learn about the terrible life that these people are forced to lead in brothels."

The group took the help of social networking sites to raise money. Contributions poured in from individuals, friends and families. Various religious groups and charitable organizations also contributed towards the cause. "I used social media to raise awareness. Then I had my blog where I had written about the expedition. I called my friends. I called a bunch of friends and I let them know about the climb. We have managed to collect about $100,000 and this could help a lot of girls. This could help us to bring about a lot of awareness," said Dickey.

The team of three started the climb on January 4. "We were back on January 12. The climb lasted for eight days," said Slowey over a telephonic interview from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Concern: Bollywood actor Shreyas Talpade along with the commercial
sex workers pay tribute to AIDS victims in Kamathipura. File Pic

Apart from the cause, it was the allure of Mount Kilimanjaro that beckoned the 37-year-old baseball player to undertake the expedition. "I remembered reading, The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway when I was in Class VII. I was inspired by that book and that is why I chose Kilimanjaro of all the other mountains. And the two other team members agreed to it. Another factor why we chose Mt Kilimanjaro over any other mountain was that the climb did not require extreme technical skills but it was a long climb. Perseverance is what mattered," said Dickey, who has a huge fan base in the US. The group started planning for the trip in 2010 itself. Drawing parallels between baseball and mountaineering, Slowey says that 'planning' is the key when it comes to committing yourself. "In baseball as well as mountaineering, I believe it is important to plan well in advance, before one commits to do something. We started planning about the climb to Mt Kilimanjaro, almost a year in advance. We had to book our flight and our equipment and be on schedule," said Slowey.

Concurs Racaniello, "We did a lot of research before the climb. We obviously couldn't afford to risk any of our careers as baseball players, so we had to look at various factors -- like the nature of the climb, the weather, etcetera. I knew that the trek would need some technical skill. But compared to many other climbs, I thought that it would be less dangerous."

When asked to draw a comparison between baseball and mountaineering Racaniello said, "Climbing a mountain would require say 6-8 hours of hiking at a stretch. Whereas a baseball game would last for 2-3 hours, but there is more skill involved." According to Dickey, both baseball and mountaineering require equal amount of perseverance. "The adversity factor when it comes to mountaineering is large. In baseball you need to be in good shape and there is certain level of physical fitness that is required. Apart from that you need to be mentally sharp. The day we reached the summit, it was almost an eight hour climb upwards from where we started. After reaching the summit, we had to climb down soon and totally we kept trekking for 18 hours. That is the difference you know. At the end of a baseball game you can go home. But while climbing a mountain, you don't have any option but to just go forward. I think baseball is easier than mountaineering," said Dickey, who lost nine pounds after the climb. Slowey too believes that mountaineering could be dangerous. "One fall and the game could be over for you," said Slowey. Though perseverance helped them complete the climb, the journey was fraught with challenges. Explained Dickey, "I did not have altitude sickness or extreme nausea. But, around 18,000 feet I started hallucinating.  I had to take a break for a while. Earlier, I had never reached above 12,000 feet and this was like 19,341 feet above sea level. I am glad that I didn't get hurt during the climb." Apart from the wind and freezing temperature, that at times made the climb difficult, Slowey said, he " just felt lightheaded during the climb."

Racaniello added, "I never really thought of giving up. But I was feeling little light headed and my eyes were playing tricks. So, everything appeared double. But I would like to conquer many mountains in future, where climbing is more difficult and technical."

After the baseball season in the next couple of months, RA Dickey is planning to visit the country with his family. "I have never been to Mumbai. After the baseball season, in the next couple of months, I along with my family intend to travel to India. I also plan to visit the red light district of Mumbai. Earlier I didn't know much about Kamathipura. But I read up on the Internet. I also spoke to my friends. That is how I got to know about Kamathipura."  Slowey too has  have never been to India or Mumbai. He added, "I had always been fascinated by whatever I have read about the country."

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