Alison Levine boosts women's rights as she climbs African peaks
By Katherine Nichols
MOUNTAIN climber and inspirational speaker Alison Levine is a petite woman who has made a big impact in the far corners of the globe. During her keynote speech Friday at HerStory, the sixth annual conference organized by the Junior League of Honolulu, she showed a short film about her work in Uganda.
On a climbing trip to western Uganda in 2005, she noticed that women in the villages were doing all of the labor yet were considered property of the men. Because working as a mountain-climbing guide or porter is the only way to earn a living, Levine requested female guides. They looked strong, and she didn't want "the skinny little men."
The Ugandan men told Levine -- who has scaled the highest peaks on six continents despite two heart surgeries -- that for generations it had been taboo for women to go into the mountains.
Alison Levine travels to Uganda twice a year to train women as porters and mountain guides, a job once held only by men. CLICK FOR LARGE
Why? Nobody knew. So she made a deal with the leaders. She would train the women who wanted to learn to become porters and mountain guides.
The men shrugged. "They'll never make it," they said. "Anything beyond the kitchen, it is not their domain."
Levine responded that if the women did traverse the difficult trail to 14,000 feet, the employers must promise to hire them and pay them the same wages given to men.
It worked. Several women successfully followed Levine -- carrying heavy packs and terminating age-old taboos in the process. Now they are leading groups through the mountains and becoming financially independent.
"I knew there was so much more work that needed to be done there," Levine, 40, said of her efforts. So she started a nonprofit in Uganda and returns twice a year to train more women.
Speaker inspires student
La Pietra School for Girls underwrote much of HerStory, and made it possible for keynote speaker Alison Levine to come to Hawaii.
She inspired Jasmine Kimura, 17, who introduced the motivational speaker at the conference.
"It just seemed like her journey was so impossible," said Kimura, a senior at La Pietra. "She's been through so much, and she was discouraged so many times. It just makes you think you can do more. You have to go outside your limit and just keep pushing."
Kimura related this to college as well. "It's really overwhelming and it's so close. I just need to make small goals to achieve the big one. I can do that, just take one class a time, do every assignment one at a time, and the year will fly by, and I'll feel so much better."