BOCA RATON, Fla. — When she was just 14, Madison Baczewski traveled to Ukraine with her church group and volunteered at an orphanage.
Next year Baczewski, 18, will embark on her biggest adventure so far: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. "I really want to be where nobody else is going and do something," she explained.
Baczewski is the youngest in a group of 47 women—the oldest is 77—who plan to travel to Tanzania and scale the peak of Africa's tallest mountain on Jan. 11. They want to raise money for exploited women and children, many of them victims of human trafficking.
The effort is called the Freedom Climb. Launched by Operation Mobilization, a faith-based organization that offers aid to people in developing countries, it's the first of its kind.
The women come from countries that include South Africa, New Zealand, and Kosovo. Seven of the climbers live in South Florida, and Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach and Loxahatchee are also represented.
Each woman's goal is to raise $10,000. The money will go to 24 projects, from counseling for human trafficking victims in India to funding education for children with HIV-positive parents in Nepal.
To fundraise, some South Florida women hosted jewelry or clothing parties. Others organized car washes and yard sales. When loved ones asked Baczewski what she wanted for her birthday, she asked for money instead of gifts.
Baczewski said she joined the Freedom Climb because her life is "abundantly blessed."
"I really have a heart for some people who don't experience even a fraction of what I've experienced my whole life," she said.
When she was 13, Baczewski learned about human trafficking during a presentation at her church.
"I was stunned," she said. "It just made me sick."
The home-schooled teen is taking courses at Palm Beach Atlantic University, working toward a degree in nursing. She wants to work as a nurse in a third-world country to "serve people who are servants in their countries."
Macon Dunnagan, 51, a Mount Kilimanjaro expedition director from Charlotte, N.C., boasts that he's climbed the mountain 19 times. Dunnagan said the hike is a beautiful experience, a chance to see the sunrise below and the starry sky above.
Dunnagan said climbing the 19,340-foot mountain is no easy feat, though the gradual ascent allows climbers to use trekking poles. There are challenges: no bathrooms, no showers, and each climber must carry a backpack heavy with personal belongings.
Six routes snake up the mountain. The Freedom Climbers will take Marangu, a five-day route.
"By no means is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a vacation," Dunnagan said. "It will seriously be the hardest thing you'll ever do in your life."
But Baczewski said she's not deterred.
"The time that we spend on the mountain is going to be miserable," she said. "I'm glad that it's not a joy ride… because we're trying to be a voice for the voiceless."
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