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12-year-old climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro in fund-raising effort to combat childhood blindness

September 23, 2010 | 10:39 am

Jason at Gilmans Point 2 (2)

Jason Kontomitras had a dream and a desire. The 12-year-old Los Angeles resident wanted to help blind and vision-impaired children in Guatemala be able to receive sight-restoring surgeries. To accomplish this, he set out on a fund-raising mission -- climbing Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro, which at 19,341 feet is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

Kontomitras reached one goal and surpassed another, summiting Kilimanjaro last month and transcending his fund-raising goal of $20,000, raising more than $25,000 to date -- the most ever by a climber.

Kontomitras was part of a Climb for Sight expedition, which makes biannual treks to Kilimanjaro. Climb for Sight and the trips are sponsored by the Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing avoidable blindness by building clinics and training and equipping eye-care doctors in developing countries.

"My mom was on a Google search for volunteer or mission trips that families could take together, and she found the Climb for Sight website in 2007," Kontomitras said. "But I was only 9 at the time and too young to make the climb. So, last year we contacted the Climb for Sight group and started making plans to go."

In mid-August, Kontomitras and his mother, Laura, were among a group of climbers who, with their guides and porters, set out on the Marangu Route to the summit. Although a popular route for amateur climbers because it is the quickest way to the summit, it's challenging due to the altitude, low temperatures and occasional high winds experienced during the approximately 60-mile round-trip trek.

Kontomitras' mother, in fact, had to turn around on the route up and return to the base camp, overcome by altitude sickness and by the cold.

Jason3 "My mom was at the back of our line, and I knew that she was there because I could always see her light when I turned around," Kontomitras said. "So when I looked back and saw her light getting further and further away, I got really scared that something had happened to her." One of the guides told him what had happened to his mother and to keep moving, so Kontomitras continued upward.

After five days, the group finally reached the summit, where, Kontomitras told Outposts, they only spent about 15 minutes. Still, those 15 minutes were the most memorable part of the journey, he said.

And when asked if there was anything he didn't like about the climb, the young man had only one answer:

"The food. It mostly was like porridge, and on the mountain they serve you stiff porridge, which is like porridge but it looks like mashed potatoes -- and they want you to eat with your hands."

Kontomitras, now back home and dealing with everyday things such as school and football, is still gratefully accepting donations, thinking of those he could help.

"The surgeries cost about $200, so for every $200 that I am able to raise, a child at one of the surgery centers in South America gets new eyes and a chance at a happier and better life."

-- Kelly Burgess

Upper photo: Jason Kontomitras standing at Gilman's Point on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Credit: Moshi Expedition and Mountaineering Tours

Lower photo: Jason Kontomitras. Credit: Laura Kontomitras