Photographer Summits Kilimanjaro on Behalf of Female Violence Victims

By Megan Perkins ’18
6/28/2018 4:47:46 PM

Chelsea HudsonOne year ago, photographer and activist Chelsea Hudson ’04 could barely walk up her street without wheezing. But on March 8, Hudson and 13 fellow climbers successfully reached the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain located in Tanzania, to bring awareness and raise funds for One Million Thumbprints, an organization fighting sexual and gender-based violence against women.

Hudson and the other participants in the “Climb for Peace” collected contributions to be used, with the help of World Relief, in grassroots programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Iraq.

As motivational fuel for the rigorous trek, the women spent three days in Tanzania’s neighboring country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, prior to the climb. They listened to the stories of rape victims and widows who found community and healing through the World Relief Congo trauma care groups that the team’s climb helped fund.

“Having these women’s faces, stories and even hugs, so fresh on our hearts and minds helped keep the ‘why’ of the climb front and center when the going got tough on the mountain,” said Hudson.

Carrying flags painted with thumbprints to represent silenced gender violence victims, the group hiked for four days to get to the basecamp at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. On the fifth day, also International Women’s Day, the group began climbing at midnight and arrived at the first summit, Gilman’s Point (at 18,650 feet), at 8:30 that morning. The final 691 feet of elevation to reach the highest summit, Uhuru Peak, took another two hours.

Hudson said that altitude related physical struggles — headaches, nausea, lack of sleep, and gastrointestinal issues — made the trek very challenging.

When Hudson and the team reached Uhuru, they cried, prayed and proclaimed freedom over the women for whom they had climbed.

Hudson said the euphoria and sense of accomplishment she felt at the peak momentarily overpowered the pain of the ascent.

“It was a very moving and profound moment at the top … a realization that we did it. We did what we had all trained for, prepared for, prayed for,” said Hudson.

The descent to the base of the mountain took three hours, followed by another five-hour hike to their camp for the night. The next morning they walked 12 more miles to catch their ride back to their hotel.

As a result of the team’s two-and-a-half week trip, the women raised $180,000 to fund anti-gender violence grassroots programs through World Relief and their partner organizations — Pastors Networking Committees, Savings for Life and Village Peace Communities.

For Hudson, the climb was the culmination of more than just her activist ambitions; it also represented the realization of her personal fitness goals. In preparation for the climb, Hudson began a 5K running program and made a conscious decision to improve her health. Hudson said one of the greatest impacts of summiting Kilimanjaro was discovering that fitness could be an act of worship.

“Pursuing getting healthier and stronger was actually a way to honor God and be ready and able to do the things that He has for me,” said Hudson.

The day after summiting, Hudson learned that the name of the highest peak, “Uhuru,” means “freedom” in Swahili. Hudson was awestruck at the coincidence as this single word embodied the purpose behind the climb and her personal anti-trafficking and anti-slavery advocacy work.

Hudson’s website,, encourages busy women and mothers to become involved in the fight against extreme poverty, child trafficking and modern slavery by transforming their frustration, passion and empathy into action. Do a Little Good provides a range of resources including moving stories of the work women are doing on the front lines of these issues.

“I want it to be a place where people can figure out how to weave activism into their daily lives,” says Hudson.

Hudson admits that juggling a family and trying to make an impact in the world is a constant struggle, but her message to mothers is that “it is never either/or.”

“We all have a responsibility as human beings on this planet to care for our fellow human beings. And we all have a role to play. We don’t get a pass on this,” said Hudson. “Do something.”


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