Like many retired professionals, Fox Island resident Bill Fay had plans and a bucket list in place when he retired from Boeing in March of 2015.
Included on his list was the goal to climb three Pacific Northwest mountains: Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier.
“I had some aspirations to do some things when I retired that I never got to in my 20s,” Fay, 59, said. “Weirdly, I may be in the best shape of my life.”
What Fay had not planned for was that his retirement activities would be transformed into a fundraising effort for Orphans Africa, a Tacoma nonprofit organization dedicated to educating orphans in Tanzania.
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On Sept. 1 and 2, Fay plans to climb Mount Rainier with the goal to raise $1 for every one of the 14,416 vertical feet of the mountain, with a donation match from Boeing.
I had some aspirations to do some things when I retired that I never got to in my 20s. Weirdly, I may be in the best shape of my life.
All proceeds of the fundraiser will go to benefit current Orphans Africa projects in Tanzania, specifically to build a boys dormitory at the Mwaji Secondary school in Western Tanzania. Orphans Africa was started in 2007 by Michele Torrey and Carl Gann, a husband-and-wife team and Fox Island residents who continue to run the organization along with co-founder Elizabeth De Guzman.
“The reason we founded Orphans Africa is to help the orphan children,” Gann said. “Children are innocent. They’re not responsible for being orphans.”
Orphans Africa works in Tanzania, a peaceful country that has endured wars in neighboring countries and diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and HIV/AIDS that have ravaged the population, leaving the median population age at 17 to 18, with 3.1 million orphans. The organization has built three schools at three different sites throughout Tanzania, focusing on a self-sustaining model that allows the schools to continue running without outside funds.
The reason we founded Orphans Africa is to help the orphan children (in Tanzania). Children are innocent. They’re not responsible for being orphans.
Carl Gann, president and co-founder of Orphans Africa
Each school has a mixture of orphan children and children whose parents are able to pay for them to attend. While primary education is free in Tanzania, those who can afford it send their children to private schools because of the low quality of public education.
“What makes us different is we build self-sustaining schools,” Gann said. “We don’t want to make Tanzania dependent on us. We want to show them how to do it.”
The organization currently has three schools: the Marilynn Primary and Nursery School in Majohe, the Mwaji Secondary School in Bujela and the Isandula Center, a boarding school, secondary school and nursery school in the Mbozi district.
The land for each school is donated by the community, which is eager for its children to have educational opportunities, Gann said.
“The community has to contribute the land. They have to buy in from the beginning,” he said. “And they have. They love what we’re doing. They love seeing their communities children have someplace to go for education.”
This sense of community has stretched halfway around the world to reach Fay, who met Gann through the Fox Island Yacht Club.
We’re very proud of Bill. He’s doing a good thing for Orphans Africa and we commend that.
“I’m hooked in with the kids. At this point I have to do it for them,” Fay said. “Now it’s all about the kids. It’s not about me anymore.”
Fay has been training for the climb over the past year, with more serious training taking place over the past six months. His training included a series of 80-day hikes across Washington state, from west to east over six months, with a total of 1,224 miles that he finished on March 31.
Recently, Fay has been training for his Mount Rainier climb by adding in some weight training and conditioning himself to higher elevations. Over the past three months he has hiked 235 miles and 115,000 vertical feet, by doing “double summits,” or climbing the same mountain twice in one day — he has done this with Mount Si and Mount Rose.
This is way outside my comfort zone. It’s one thing to do your personal best. It’s another to know that hundreds of orphans are counting on you ... what can we do for these kids? I really want to make it up (Mount Rainier). I’m compelled.
“I feel the strain of what I’m trying to do,” Fay said, noting the difference between his current hiking and the hiking he did in his 20s. “Here I am 39 years later, trying to do it again.”
While Orphans Africa has several fundraisers that it holds throughout the year, this is the first climb fundraiser that the organization has sponsored.
“We’re very proud of Bill,” Gann said. “He’s doing a good thing for Orphans Africa, and we commend that.”
Fay is amazed at the transformation of his retirement goals to the current international fundraiser for Orphans Africa.
“This is way outside my comfort zone,” he said. “It’s one thing to do your personal best. It’s another to know that hundreds of orphans are counting on you ... what can we do for these kids? I really want to make it up (Mount Rainier). I’m compelled.”