Students at the University of Maine in Farmington visited the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, a nonprofit initiative to raise public awareness of the fair and ethical treatment of porters on Kilimanjaro. From left, front, are front, Mariah Langton; Riley Sampson; David Mtuy, Mount Kilimanjaro porter; and Linda Beck, UMF professor and trip leader; back, Mark Pires, UMF co-instructor; Kelvin Salla, KPAP assistant director; UMF students Erin Gonzalez, Nik Peterson, Derek Taber, Emily Cetin, Adriana Burnham, Nolan Crandall and Alexis Paradis.

FARMINGTON — Nine University of Maine at Farmington students, accompanied by two faculty instructors, recently returned from a travel course to Tanzania in East Africa, with a new perspective on making the world a better place.

The UMF winter course, which has been offered three times, focuses on sustainable tourism and environmental activism.

The course ran from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9 and covered a survival lesson in Swahili, a tour of local villages to better understand local livelihoods and customs, meetings with local tourism operators and environmental activists about community-based conservation, wildlife corridors and land rights for indigenous communities.

Tanzania is famous for tourism, with the country’s network of national parks, reserves and conservation areas spanning one quarter of the country. While there, UMF students had the chance to eat local foods, tour a local school, pick coffee at a fair trade coffee cooperative and plant trees to combat deforestation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

Nik Peterson, a sophomore from Lewiston majoring in psychology, looked forward to seeing sustainable tourism in action and adding international experience to his resume for medical school. “You think about making a difference as a simple thing,” he said. “But a field experience like this, where you get to see the significant impact your decisions can have on the lives of real people, not only changes their lives, it changes you in the process.”

A highlight of the course was a day hike in Kilimanjaro National Park. Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa, at 19,341 feet, and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world. A huge tourist attraction, the mountain generates thousands of jobs for local porters.

Local residents working as porters are poorly educated and often don’t speak English. They can easily be victims of poor working conditions and inadequate wages. As a significant part of their coursework, students visited the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, a nonprofit initiative to raise public awareness of the fair and ethical treatment of porters on Kilimanjaro.

“KPAP is a key partner with UMF and a real-life example for our students of sustainable tourism in action,” said Linda Beck, associate dean of UMF experiential and global education, professor of political science and trip leader.

The organization offers climbing gear free for loan to porters and mountain crew who cannot afford the proper equipment. It also educates the climbers with fundamental information concerning proper porter treatment and advocates climbers to make an informed decision in choosing a socially responsible climbing company.

“One of the major issues the porters face is exposure due to insufficient equipment for the cold climbs to the summit,” Beck said. “Each time I have offered the course in the past, we take hiking boots and winter gear donated by UMF students, staff and Farmington community members. It’s a wonderful experience for our students to be a part of this new perception of tourism, where travel not only enriches the traveler’s life but also positively impacts the lives of the local people.”

UMF students taking part were Adriana Burnham, Farmington; Emily Cetin, Barre, Vermont; Nolan Crandall, Bar Harbor; Erin Gonzalez, North Andover, Massachusetts; Mariah Langton, Madison; Alexis Paradis, Lewiston; Nik Peterson, Lewiston; Riley Sampson, Chesterville; and  Derek Taber, West Farmington.

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