Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sami Diamond, an 11-year-old from Teaneck who is in the sixth grade at Yeshivat Noam, with the help of Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) made it possible for Masoud, a man she’s never met who lives 7,500 miles away, to become the first little person to reach the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Jamie Lassner, executive director of FAISR, first met Masoud at Shanga Village in Arusha, Tanzania. Shanga is a social enterprise which employs people with disabilities, and visitors to Africa often visit and meet with the residents. Sami’s mother, Stefanie, made the trip last November, and suggested that Lassner pay a visit, as the community aligned so perfectly with FAISR’s mission.

During their visit, the FAISR group met Ruth Willatt, business development consultant at Shanga, and Masoud, a 35-year-old artist. Although he lives at the foot of Kilimanjaro, Masoud had never had the opportunity to climb it. Because of FAISR and Sami, he is now the first little person to reach the Roof of Africa at 19,341 feet.


Willatt explained, “Throughout life, connections, comments and promises are made but at times they are not made by people with as much integrity as Jamie Lassner. I met Jamie when he visited Shanga and our meeting led to a promise to support Masoud achieve a lifelong dream to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. Through Jamie’s tenacity and connections, Masoud’s epic journey [happened]. Over the last few months Masoud, with support of his friends, trained daily, and [spoke] often about the adventure, but on the day of his departure his excitement was so overwhelming it left him speechless. Supported by Sabi Kweka at the travel agency Popote Africa Adventures, Masoud commenced climbing the mountain on Sunday, September 13, 2020.”

She added, “A special thanks also goes to Sami, an 11-year-old from the US who has not yet had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania, but has a very caring heart and has made it her mission to see that our Masoud, whom she has never met, reaches his goal.”

Due to the pandemic and curtailed international travel, FAISR conducted a virtual 19,341-foot “climb, roll, walk or run” to raise funds and awareness on how to make the world accessible to all. In Tanzania, Masoud completed the virtual event with the comradery of his friends from Shanga Village. Sami participated by biking and walking her 19,341 feet. She simultaneously decided that as part of her bat mitzvah celebration, she would make bracelets to sponsor Masoud to actually climb Kilimanjaro, because she firmly believed that everybody can achieve their goals. Sami succeeded in raising the funds for Masoud’s challenge.

Kweka, general director of Popote Africa Adventures in Tanzania, who organized the FAISR trip that sparked this endeavor, arranged for Masoud to join a small team of German trekkers who launched their trek on Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho Route last weekend.

Kweka commented, “After we completed the record breaking Kili climb in February 2020, we went to the remarkable and creative Shanga Village. Ruth and Jamie met while the rest of the trekkers shopped. From that meeting came our joint cooperation to make Masoud’s dream come true.”

He added, “We look forward to celebrating this personal milestone with Masoud, and Masoud’s global accomplishment of being the first little person to reach the peak of our Mount Kilimanjaro. Accessible travel is important, especially when we have the tallest free standing mountain in Africa that is reachable by all who wish to trek it.”

Omari Paramaba, Masoud’s guide from Poptote, texted Lassner as they entered the Londorosi Gate, “I am very excited to climb with Masoud. My goal is to get to the top together, and I know we can do it. We will make it a September to remember.”

Sami said, “Although I’m not able to be with Masoud physically, I thought about him all week long. My heart was on Kilimanjaro helping him climb to the top, and that felt really great. Masoud may be a little person, and I’m only 11, but he has taught me that anything is possible no matter who you may be.”

She added, “Masoud has taught me the importance of having a dream and facing your fears head on. This showed me the power of focusing on the fact that almost anything is possible. Masoud clearly showed me that #EverbodyCanBeASuperstar.”

“Sami is a bundle of positive energy and blessed with wisdom beyond her years. In her words and deeds, she taught us much about making the world a better place. We are humbled that Sami has made Masoud’s dream come true and allowed him to climb the tallest peak in Africa and return safely,” Lassner said.

Many of Masoud’s Shanga colleagues, as well as some government officials, were on hand to greet and celebrate with Team Masoud when he descended the mountain.