Our climb operator and Partner, The African Walking Company, place staff welfare at the core of their business which is one of the many reasons we are proud to work with them. Their mountain teams and staff are critically important to them and they pay a great deal of attention to finding the right staff and retaining them. All of their staff work exclusively for them, and they run training courses to help them develop and regularly promote from within. Some of their current head guides started as porters and have been trained and worked their way up to the highest positions.
Their head guides each hold licences from the Kilimanjaro National Park authority to lead treks and have their own teams of assistant guides and camp staff in order to ensure a good level of service on the mountain. It is these head guides who carry the ultimate authority during a trek and any decision he makes is final. All their guides know Kilimanjaro very well, climbing it around 20 times each year. The guides speak English, are welcoming, warm and helpful towards their clients. Their level of formal education varies widely, but all have the capability to manage the complex logistics of porters, provisions and routines.
The people who really make the trips happen behind the scenes are the porters. But despite their importance to a trek, the manner in which many mountain operators deal with their porters is nothing short of scandalous. The abuse of porters is a major issue on Kilimanjaro and one which every trekker should familiarise themselves with before booking. Whilst it may be true that Africa is a much tougher environment than most visitors are used to and people are more accustomed to greater levels of deprivation and adversity, that does not make it right for trekkers to support this abuse by trekking with offending companies.
Whether or not the porters eat well is another major issue as staff food also represents a considerable weight element. A large trek can have over 40 staff and cutting rations can lead to major cost savings, something that we clearly would never condone. Another key issue here is how much the porters are loaded. We know of several major mountain operators which regularly load their porters to 40kg, whereas we set 25kg as the upper limit. You have to see some of these porters on the mountain, they are loaded like pack mules. Try lifting 40kg off the floor, then imagine trying to walk all the way up and down the mountain with it on your heads. It is no wonder that the working life of a porter is often not more than a few years.
Please go to the section of our website that talks about the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistant Project by clicking on the heading below.