Climbing for conservation

Duke graduate Jeff Martin, Pratt '98, is on to bigger and better things, literally. Martin set off this weekend to climb Africa's five highest peaks and raise money to educate East Africa's Masai Mara villagers on environmental preservation.

This expedition will be his first under Altruistic Adventures: Expeditions for Earth and Humanity, the organization Martin founded last spring "to inspire and enable the independent traveler to include within his or her travels a charitable component, thereby making the journey a more meaningful and lasting endeavor not only for the individual, but more importantly for the land and people of this extraordinary planet," according to his website.

Not bad for someone who just wanted out of his gray cubicle two and a half years ago, while working for one of Atlanta's larger environmental engineering firms, Parson's Engineering Science, Inc.

Tired of office life, Martin left Atlanta for a five-month trip to Asia, where he participated in a month-long backpacking trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School in the Himalayas of eastern India. NOLS introduced him to new environmentally conscious habits as well as his future travel partner, Dan Karstofsky, who will accompany Martin on his African expedition.

Two summers ago while working with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative--a non-profit organization focused on preserving and restoring the 14,000-ft. mountains--Martin met a climber who had raised money for rainforest preservation while hiking on the Pacific Coast Trail. That story inspired Martin to blend philanthropy with his love of travel in a trip to Africa.

"I'd like a better understanding of the culture and the conservation issues going on in East Africa... and how the involvement of certain charities... are received in the communities which they're trying to help," Martin wrote in an e-mail. "I'm thrilled with the opportunities to see things and do things that are unique and inspiring, from climbing tall peaks, to seeing wildlife, to interacting with a culture in a setting that isn't contrived through tourism."

After funding their own travel expenses, Karstofsky and Martin have raised approximately $5,500 of their $10,000 goal for the London-based Friends of Conservation, an organization that has worked to educate people and reduce the damage of excessive tourism in the Masai Mara National Reserve for the past 20 years.

Martin and Karstofsky will visit Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda by hiking Mt. Meri, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, Mt. Stanley and Mt. Ras Dashen. The 250-mile trek will take about two months. Their third month in Africa will be spent volunteering in the Koyiaki area near the Masai Mara National Reserve, where they will work with village leaders to identify environmental risks and develop plans to solve the problems. The volunteer efforts will be implemented by Friends of Conservation under the Koyiaki Conservation Management and Community Involvement Program.

"You can't protect wildlife without addressing community needs.... Ultimately, it's the community and its involvement that's going to determine the success or failure of a program," Martin told The Denver Post on Nov. 24.

Martin, a Charlottesville, Va., native, has already traveled to every other continent besides Africa and Antarctica. His hiking career began in the Alps when he spent a year in Switzerland at age 8 and continued when he backpacked in Wyoming through a teen adventure program. During his time at Duke, Martin also spent a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia, exploring the continent. After spending two weeks in Belize with an ecology and conservation program his senior year, he spent two more months hitchhiking, backpacking and kayaking through much of South America after graduation.

After exploring east Africa, Martin will return to his position as director of operations at The World Outdoors, where he organizes outdoor adventures in the American West and some international destinations. He will also work on expanding his own organization's website, www.altruisticadventures.org.

"Ultimately I would like to be able to say that $1,000,000 was raised to support a variety of charities that have been hosted on my site and were inspired from my efforts and those others that have gone before me," Martin wrote.

While Martin knows that he may not be able to reach his goal, he is happy that he has been able to pursue his dreams. "So far I've taken what hasn't been more than a $300 investment, not counting the computer and printer, and can say that I've helped raise almost $25,000 for charities. That's a nice thing for me to think about."

Even before the trip began, Martin had learned some valuable lessons about fundraising, which he hopes will help him in the future. "Now I can say that I've been through it myself, success or failure, I've got experience," Martin wrote. "That will help round out my qualifications for whatever path I choose: business school, non-profit [organizations and] international work."

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