4 local women plan to climb Africa’s Kilimanjaro ‘for freedom’

These Fayette County women will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in January to raise funds and bring awareness to the reality of the countless women and children living as slaves around the world. Participating in the climb are (clockwise from left) Sue McCabe of Tyrone, Nancy Byrne of Fayetteville, Susan Woods of Peachtree City and Sarah Bradfield of Peachtree City. Photo/Ben Nelms.

There are an infinite number of ways to take action against injustice. But for four Fayette County women that action means participating in the Freedom Climb where dozens of women from the U.S. and beyond will climb Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness about the reality of slavery in the 21st century.

Participating in the Freedom Climb are Fayetteville resident Nancy Byrne, Tyrone resident Sue McCabe and Peachtree City residents Susan Woods and Sarah Bradfield.

The climb will take place on Mt. Kilimanjaro because it is symbolic of the climb to freedom that is faced each day by the millions of women and children enslaved around the world, Byrne explained. But the symbolism goes even further.

“Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and its summit is known as Uhuru Peak, which is the Swahili word that means freedom,” Byrne said.

Byrne in explaining the purpose behind the effort said women from across the globe will begin an ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on Jan. 11, which is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the U.S. Each climber will be raising awareness, prayers and finances for women and children being oppressed, enslaved, exploited and trafficked, Byrne said.

Byrne said the Freedom Climb goal for 2012 is to affect the lives of 10,000 women through projects that break the cycle of poverty, shame, slavery, and despair. These projects include micro-loans, education, skills training and protection from exploitation, she said.

Making the climb in January, Byrne, McCabe, Woods and Bradfield will be representing Tyrone-based Operation Mobilization. The women are hoping to raise $10,000 each for the effort. They will be joined by 50 other women from the U.S. and other countries on the ascent that is expected to take four and a half days to reach the summit at 19,341 feet.

Given their purpose and intent, it is not really a matter of actually reaching the lofty heights of Uhuru Peak. Their purpose and intent far surpasses the the summit of a mountain.

“Whether we make it or not, it is a symbolic journey of embracing the struggle and the opportunity to identify with those who suffer. As I climb, it will be a moment-by-moment reminder to pray, to come alongside and feel deeply the sufferings of those who struggle daily to climb out to gain their freedom,” said Byrne.

But why make the climb? Why not just raise money for the effort to end slavery?

“I saw an ad for the climb,” said Woods, adding that this is the greatest adventure of her life. “I was excited about it but I didn’t know if God was inviting me. But God confirmed it in many ways so I’m going forward with confidence that He will give me the strength and health. The calling is to bring awareness and raise funds that will help bring hope to the women and children living in the circumstances of slavery, child labor and trafficking.

McCabe learned about the Freedom Climb from a friend. She described herself as athletic and adventurous and has already spent time on the Appalachian Trail. But the whole idea behind the trip to Kilimanjaro is different.

“I wasn’t aware of the depth of the slavery issue. I thought that if God wants me to do this everything will come together. Then I found a clue in a devotional that said if you feel God nudging you, just say ‘yes,’” McCabe explained. “Fighting this problem of slavery is the key to succeeding against it. I’m glad to be a part of fighting slavery. And I have hope that we can make a difference.”

Bradfield, the youngest member of the Fayette County group, will serve as Operation Mobilization’s media representative, both penning stories and taking photographs during the climb. For Bradfield, the Freedom Climb is a way to participate in raising awareness of the pervasive problems created by slavery.

“I’ve been passionate about women’s issues in general and I always wanted to be a part of doing something like this,” Bradfield said. “So I have a deep down desire to go on the climb. It’s important to have people there to tell the story of what happens.”

Byrne, too, was compelled to make the Freedom Climb. Her reasons involved the plight of others from the past and present and into the future.

“My ancestors were persecuted and martyred because they were Christ-followers and fled Scotland due to lack of religious freedom. Once settled in the U.S., they became directly involved in the freedom of slaves via the Underground Railroad. This example of courage in the face of opposition, a heritage of standing up for what is right in the defense of the gospel and justice for those who are suffering without hope, has been passed on to me. It is my turn to take the baton and pass God’s legacy of hope to the next generation,” Byrne said.

“When presented with the opportunity to make the climb to help raise awareness and promote freedom, I knew in the depth of my heart that God was calling me once again to make a stand for righteousness, to stand up for the one, to speak up for those who cannot speak and to ensure justice for those who are being crushed. This is God’s heart,” Byrne said.

Summing up the January trip to Africa’s highest mountain and the intention behind it, Byrne said human trafficking, exploitation, oppression and modern day slavery steals and strips women and children of their dignity and self-respect. Twenty-seven million people are caught in modern day slavery, 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders and the global sex trade exploits one million children every year.

Byrne said trafficking is the third largest international crime, with more than 80 percent of the trafficked victims being female and over 50 percent of victims being children. Due to globalization, almost every country in the world has been involved in human trafficking, she said.

“It is time to make a stand for what is right, a stand for their freedom, to be the hands and feet of Jesus and his righteousness. We may not be able to end human trafficking, but we can make a difference by getting involved to help the one,” Byrne said. “It is time to speak up for those who cannot speak and speak justice on behalf of those who are crushed.”

Those interested in contributing to the Freedom Climb can visit http://thefreedomclimb.net/sponsor/a-cause and select the “Freedom Climb - General Fund” category to be directed to Operation Mobilization’s area. If desired, donations can be made in the name of an individual climber.

Woods, McCabe and Byrne are members of Grace Evangelical Church in Fayetteville and Bradfield is a member of the Forward Church in Sharpsburg.

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