John Baines, Area Manager for Community Safety at the Fire Service, was part of a group of 17 who tackled the 19,340ft high mountain in aid of COCO (Comrades of Children Oversees), which was founded by former Olympic athlete Steve Cram. Nearly £5,000 was raised for an international children's charity by trekking up Africa's highest mountain.

COCO works with children living in poverty in the developing world by supporting closely monitored education and healthcare initiatives that help to make a big difference to their lives. The charity has funded a host of projects, primarily in Africa, and is currently working in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana.

After a six-day trek to reach base camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, the group started out for their attempt on the summit at 1230 on February 11. Alongside John, were Lucy Philipson, Director of COCO, and Tyne Tees TV presenter Philippa Tomson.

John said: "It was a gruelling climb in temperatures of minus 15 degrees and lower. The path was unforgiving and in parts was like a lunar landscape, with sand and gravel giving away underfoot.

"By 0620 we had reached stellar point and we could see sunlight breaking on the horizon, showing the curve of the earth. Thirty minutes later we reached the summit - the roof of Africa as it is called - by which time the sun had risen, illuminating the glaciers and the deep brown volcanic ash that lines the crater. It was a fantastic sight, and one that I'm certain we will all remember for the rest of our lives."

Both before the ascent and after climbing the mountain the team visited some of the projects supported by COCO. The first was a women's centre and orphanage called Uwawayaki, in Moshi.

"It was clear to see the benefits COCO had made," said John, "a new classroom, an outdoor play area, plus teaching and learning materials."

John Baines, who is also Chairman of Governors at Fellside Community Primary School in Whickham, took sports equipment, together with pictures, messages and the school mascot 'Sock Monkey', on behalf of the Fellside children.

He added: "During the visit we managed to set up a live telephone link between the Maasai children in Londoto and the children in assembly back at Fellside Primary. They exchanged greetings - 'Jambo', Swahili for hello - and the children also sang songs for each other. It was wonderful to see and hear.

"We then presented the sports equipment from the pupils at Fellside, which included rugby balls, footballs, football strips, cricket and rounders bats and tennis racquets. Within half an hour Calum Grant, one of my fellow trekkers from the Tyne Valley, had the children playing rugby. Their beaming smiles, laughter and enthusiasm for this new game they were discovering was uplifting for us all.

"At both projects it was clear to see the joy of the children and adults alike. The clear expressions of gratitude really demonstrated the great difference COCO is able to make to the lives of children living in such poverty.

"I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you on behalf of all of the trekking team to all of the people and organisations who have supported our Kilimanjaro climb and the great work of COCO." 

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Posted: 15.44pm, 11.03.11