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Flowery Branch man plans Mount Kenya climb
Trip would raise funds for African charity
Robert Smucker holds two Somali Muslim girls at the Bokolomanyo refugee camp.


For more information about Heart for Africa, call 1-800-901-7585; Conscience International, 770-518-7073.



A Flowery Branch man who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro as a fundraiser last year has kept up his humanitarian efforts in Africa and has set his sights on another summit in the continent, Mount Kenya.

"At this time I am still working on my 2012 trip plans, which I hope to have ready by the middle of next month," said Robert Smucker, an engineer with Ciba Vision in Duluth.

The trip, if it comes together as he hopes, will serve, like the Kilimanjaro one, as a fundraiser for Heart for Africa, a Christian-based organization providing basic needs and education to needy children in Swaziland.

Heart for Africa, which is based in the North Fulton County city of Milton, is developing 2,500 acres in Swaziland for large-scale farming, fisheries, poultry houses and a dairy farm.

Mount Kenya is, at 17,000 feet, the second tallest mountain in Africa. Even though it is a couple of thousand feet shorter than Kilimanjaro, "it is a more difficult climb, needing technical climbing skills to reach the summit."

The mountain climbing is an extension of his work over the past six-plus years with Heart for Africa. He also has served with Conscience International, which provides humanitarian relief around the globe and is headed by Gainesville's Jim Jennings.

Much of his work has been centered in East Africa, which has been reeling from a devastating famine since July.

Smucker returned in October to Ethiopia to help deploy and set up a mobile clinic at the Bokolomanyo refugee camp, which houses some 40,000 Somali refugees.

After three months of bureaucratic red tape and paperwork, Ethiopia's Administration for Refugee/Returnee Affairs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees gave their OK for the Save the Children at Risk program to proceed.

"The whole approval process was a very frustrating experience considering what is happening at these camps," Smucker said. "You would think there would be a sense of urgency to get this program under way."

Two Ethiopian volunteers and Smucker drove the mobile clinic and a support vehicle about 620 miles to the refugee camp.

"In this region, there is no power, no cell phone (coverage), land lines or Internet," Smucker said. "The small town of Negele is the last supply stop and communication point before you travel to Dolo Ado (on the Somalian border)."

The drought in the Horn of Africa is affecting an estimated 13 million people, he said.

"Medical screening of new arrivals recorded that 19 percent of children have severe acute malnutrition," said Smucker, who is planning to head back in June to help with setting up a permanent Save the Children at Risk camp site.

Four camps on the border of Ethiopia and Somalia house a combined 150,000 refugees. A fifth one is under construction.

Some much-needed rain has fallen in the region, but humanitarian aid that would help people grow food and maintain fields was blocked by Al Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-connected group that controlled the southern part of Somalia, Smucker said.

Recently, Al Shabaab was driven out of Mogadishu, Somalia, by African Union peacekeeping forces. The AU is now allowing humanitarian organizations to return, and the UN has reopened offices in Mogadishu.

"It is too early to see whether or not this latest humanitarian attempt and military action will prove fruitful," Smucker said. "However, because of the history of this region and the lack of (attention) by the rest of the world, we can only hope and pray."