KPAP: an organization protecting the rights of Kilimanjaro porters

Reading time: 15 min.
Porters that work on Mount Kilimanjaro
Porters that work on Mount Kilimanjaro

When planning a trip to Africa, it's essential to consider socially responsible travel. For instance, local porters are employed in expeditions on Kilimanjaro. The tour operator you choose determines whether you'll be supporting the local community or unintentionally taking part in the unethical treatment of the locals.

Here we'll discuss the life and work of the porters on Kilimanjaro and learn more about an organization dedicated to improving their working conditions.

What is KPAP?

Located in Moshi, the largest city in the Kilimanjaro region, is the office of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, or KPAP for short. It's an independent nonprofit that works to protect the rights of porters and other members of mountain teams working on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

 KPAP office in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
ОKPAP office in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

KPAP was established in 2003 as a Tanzania-specific initiative. It was set up by another organization called the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC). IMEC itself has been around since 1996 and helps porters in Nepal. It was founded by Scott Dimetrosky, an amateur mountaineer and businessman passionate about energy-saving projects.

While climbing in the Himalayas, Scott noticed that Nepali porters were doing really hard work for unfairly low pay. Their living conditions, as well as those of their families who depend on them, were deplorable, especially in contrast to the well-off tourists coming to conquer the Himalayan peaks. So, he set up a nonprofit aimed at improving the lives of porters and advocating for fair working conditions.

These same goals were extended to helping porters on Kilimanjaro. KPAP's main tasks include raising public awareness about how men and women working as porters on Kilimanjaro live, as well as constantly doing everything possible to improve their working conditions.

Altezza Travel's porters at the gear check
Altezza Travel's porters at the gear check

At Altezza Travel, we're fully committed to the ethical treatment of employees and share KPAP’s vision and values. We're an accredited member of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) and even go beyond the basic recommended standards by introducing new initiatives in our company. These initiatives positively impact the lives and work of our porters and other mountain crew members. To learn more about how we look out for our porters, check out our page on guides and porters. For info on how we handle tipping after expeditions, read our article on tipping ethics.

Now, let’s talk about the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, how it benefits porters and their families, and how you can help the people of Kilimanjaro when you go on your climb up Africa's highest mountain.

What does KPAP do?

The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project is an organization that has several people working in an office in Moshi. KPAP also employs around a hundred in-house porters who act as inspectors. These inspectors take part in every expedition heading to Kilimanjaro. After descending the mountain, the inspector porter fills out a detailed report that provides a comprehensive look at how the expedition was organized. It's worth mentioning that this report is pretty extensive, covering 7 pages.

Can a tour operator company influence what the independent porter will write in the report? The answer is no. The porter gets paid well and isn't interested in taking bribes. Plus, different porters participate in each expedition, so if there's an issue, it's bound to come out sooner or later.

Porters carrying equipment during an expedition
Porters carrying equipment during an expedition

Based on the reports filled out over a six-month period, each company is given an internal rating. To become a KPAP partner, a company must have a rating of 85% or higher. If the rating drops below 85%, the company is removed from the partner list. Companies that exploit porters and don't operate ethically are placed on a "blacklist" in the tourism industry. We strongly advise against booking a Kilimanjaro tour with such companies.

So what do the inspector porters' reports actually contain? Here's what KPAP pays close attention to:

  • The porter's wage must not be less than the minimum of 20,000 shillings per day;
  • Wages should be paid no later than the second day after the expedition ends;
  • Each porter should receive three meals a day with adequate servings during the expeditions;
  • The tents in which porters sleep must be of good quality, with enough sleeping spaces for everyone;
  • The weight carried by a single porter must not exceed 20 kg (44 lbs);
  • There should be at least three porters for each climber (on the Marangu route, at least two);
  • The company should ensure transparent and fair distribution of tips among all mountain crew members (porters, guides, cooks);
  • Each porter should have appropriate gear;
  • In case of illness or injury, the porter should receive proper care and medical assistance.

Meeting all these requirements isn't complicated, but so far, about 70% of Kilimanjaro expeditions don't comply. Owners of non-compliant companies claim they don't want to become KPAP partners for made-up reasons, when in reality, it's more profitable for them to break the rules. Some even create their own associations, claiming to protect porters' rights, but these actually serve as a smokescreen for such irresponsible tour operators.

Porters loading expedition cargo before heading to the mountains
Porters loading expedition cargo before heading to the mountains

These are the main standards monitored by KPAP. Additionally, any porter who has been on an expedition with any company can approach the organization. If they're aware of mistreatment or poor conditions set by the employer, they can inform KPAP staff, who will then contact the company to investigate and resolve the issue.

Over the last 20 years, a lot of work has been done that has genuinely improved the lives of Kilimanjaro porters. Among the educational efforts carried out by the organization are:

  • Porters’ rights awareness sessions for more than 5,000 people;
  • English language courses (important for work involving foreigners);
  • Seminars on managing personal and family finances, as well as community budget management;
  • Environmental protection courses on Mount Kilimanjaro;
  • First aid certification courses.

Beyond this, KPAP also helps with gear, lending it to porters who can't afford to buy the necessary clothing and footwear for expeditions.

Becoming a KPAP Partner

If your company operates Kilimanjaro climbs, you can voluntarily partner up with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). It's totally free and a respectable thing to do. Companies that care about local work standards tend to earn a good name for themselves by becoming KPAP partners.

To get on the partners' list, here's what you've got to do: Submit an application, go through six months of monitoring, and score at least an 85% rating. After that, you've got to keep up that rating every climbing season. If you follow these rules, your company will be included on the partner list.

For example, we are a proud partner of KPAP. You can verify this by visiting the IMEC website's accredited companies list for the current year. Just select "Tanzania" as the country, and you'll find Altezza Travel near the top of the list.

A porter in the Altezza Travel camp on the Lemosho Route
A porter in the Altezza Travel camp on the Lemosho Route

You see, those of us operating on Kilimanjaro don't have any influence over KPAP. Membership fees aren't a thing; being a part of the partnership program is free for us.

Now, you may wonder how KPAP runs without being a commercial or government initiative. Where does the money for staff salaries, office rent, operational costs, porter training courses, and equipment come from? KPAP relies solely on donations, and at the moment, they're running low on funds.

KPAP Sign at the Moshi Office
KPAP Sign at the Moshi Office

As for Altezza Travel, we support KPAP by earmarking part of our earnings as donations - 3 dollars from each climber that goes up Kilimanjaro with us. We're also reaching out to you for KPAP support.

How to help the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project?

You can donate directly to KPAP through their websites:

Both links will take you to a PayPal donation page. You have the choice to make a one-time donation or set up a recurring monthly contribution directly from your bank card.

You probably already know that recurring donations are more beneficial for charities. It's easier for organizations to plan their work for the months ahead when they can count on steady, even if modest, income. One-time donations, no matter how generous, don't help with long-term planning. But KPAP is happy to accept help in any form.

You can also donate through us, either on the Altezza Travel website or in your personal traveler account if you're booking a tour with us. We'll transfer all your funds to KPAP without taking any fees. You'll get a detailed receipt from us, and later you can reach out to KPAP to make sure your donation reached its destination and is being put to good use.

Why does responsible tourism matter?

Why should you get involved? It's all about responsible tourism. When you travel, it's not just about not causing harm to the places you visit and their communities. It's also about supporting common people from less privileged countries. For us, as a tour company, it's vital to partner with an organization that stands up for porter rights.

Altezza Travel's porters
Altezza Travel's porters

For us at Altezza, it's about social responsibility, and building trust and reputation in our business, which attracts more and more customers. More than that, it aligns with our business values. For you, it's about ethical tourism, showing respect to the Tanzanian locals, directly impacting the living standards of porters and their families. Typically, in Kilimanjaro, one person working as a porter supports another 5-6 family members.

When you opt for a cheap tour to save money, you're not just putting yourself at risk and settling for less-than-ideal expedition conditions. You're also damaging the local economy and supporting tour operators who provide poor working conditions for porters, paying them According to statistics, companies that are not KPAP partners pay porters 70% less than companies that are KPAP-accredited and adhere to the rules of ethical treatment of mountain team members. This, in turn, means their families get less food, medicine, and opportunities for a decent life. Be responsible and travel only with companies accredited by KPAP.

Sadly, the government doesn't have the means to regulate the business around climbing Kilimanjaro, and officials can't do much to influence companies that mistreat hired workers. But you can make a difference. All it takes is to choose responsible KPAP-partner tour operators for your travels and, if possible, donate to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project. This organization is run by passionate people who are improving the lives of local communities.

Altezza Travel's tent camp at Shira Camp
Altezza Travel's tent camp at Shira Camp

TUI Travel Sustainability Survey (2010):  61% of travelers consider social issues and labor standards important for sustainable tourism.
Condé Nast Traveler Magazine (2011): 58% of readers choose a hotel that supports the local community.
Nielsen Wire (2012): 46% of those surveyed are willing to pay extra for services from socially responsible companies.
The Travel Foundation (2012): 55% of respondents believe that companies should adhere to fair labor conditions. (2020): 69% of travelers expect the tourism industry to offer more sustainable options.
Statista (2021): 82% of those surveyed consider it important to choose a hotel brand that operates responsibly.
Passport-Photo.Online (2022): 83% of Americans feel guilty about past travel that cannot be categorized as responsible tourism.
Passport-Photo.Online (2023): 74% of travelers are willing to pay extra for accommodation, transport, and other services that benefit the local community and culture.
a growing trend among travelers to choose options aligned with responsible tourism, including eco-friendliness, sensible resource use, and economic support for local communities. Let's act responsibly toward the Tanzanians who live and work on Kilimanjaro. Together, we can support KPAP, an organization that has already done so much in its 20 years and needs additional help now as the number of travelers keeps increasing each year.

Revised on 27 September 2023
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