Rutgers Student Scales Mount Kilimanjaro to Raise Funds, Awareness for Water Aid

Rutgers Student Scales Mount Kilimanjaro to Raise Funds, Awareness for Water Aid

Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy's Arsany Makkar returns from African adventure with renewed commitment to public health

Arsany Makkar atop Mount Kilimanjaro
Arsany Makkar taking in the view from the top of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
Photo: Courtesy of Arsany Makkar

“You’re above all the clouds, the sun is glistening off the snow, and everything is peaceful. It was really breathtaking.”
 
– Arsany Makkar, honors PharmD student at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy 

Rising 19,340 feet above the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro is more than Africa’s highest point and tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

It’s a 3 million-year-old muse whose snow-topped summit intrigued ancient Greek scholars, captivated Ernest Hemingway and beckoned thousands of brave souls – including Rutgers’ Arsany Makkar – to scale it. The honors PharmD student at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy returned May 25 from a nine-day trek that took him to the pinnacle of this iconic rock formation – while raising funds for a worthy cause.  

“I cried,” Makkar said of his 30 minutes at the dormant volcano’s Uhuru Peak.  “You’re above all the clouds, the sun is glistening off the snow, and everything is peaceful. It was really breathtaking.”

The view from the top wasn’t the only thing that took Makkar’s breath away. After a six-day journey through five bio zones – bushland, rainforest, heath, alpine desert and arctic – the thin air at the lookout made even the smallest movements feel overwhelming. So much so, that Makkar and his team almost skipped the actual summit.

“There are two peaks. When you get to the first, you think you’re done and you’re dead tired, but the guides keep pushing you to go further,” he said. “We were ready to throw the guides off the mountain and call it a day. But we kept pushing and got to the second peak.”

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a lifelong dream Makkar achieved with the help of Choose a Challenge USA,  a travel organization that connects college students with charities to fundraise the cost of their trip and go on the adventure of a lifetime.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” said the Bayonne resident, 21. “But I love adrenaline, and I always knew that I wanted to climb a mountain.”

After the daylong descent, Makkar and his group spent time learning some Swahili, sampling the local cuisine and volunteering in the farms and gardens of the small village of Moshi.

Makkar’s trip, which included students from University of Massachusetts Amherst, Ramapo College, New York University and Montclair State University, benefited Water Aid, a New York City-based nonprofit dedicated to improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in 30 developing nations.

Arsany Makkar
The trip was organized by Choose a Challenge USA, a travel organization that connects college students with charities to fundraise the cost of their trip and go on the adventure of a lifetime.
Photo: Courtesy of Arsany Makkar
“We work in Tanzania, so we were particularly interested in Mount Kilimanjaro. The access to water, sanitation and hygiene there is definitely challenging,” said Elena Marmo, a community coordinator with the charity.  “So, through his travels there, Arsany was able to understand firsthand what it’s like to not have access to plumbing and a bathroom.”

The more Makkar learned about the direct impact his sweat equity could have on a Tanzanian village, the more he realized the thrill of the climb was only part of this trip’s allure.

On track to receive his degree by 2020, Makkar plans to apply to Rutgers’ pharmacology and toxicology Ph.D. program and focus his research on ecopharmacovigilance, specifically studying the adverse effects of pharmaceuticals on water quality and human health.

“Being able to talk about water quality in a community that lacks proper access to healthy water is something I have interest in,” said Makkar, whose previous environmental toxicology research with Rutgers analyzed the effects of diesel gas exhaust on asthmatic children in Newark and Elizabeth. “That and climbing the mountain made me realize there is more to life than just studying for a job. I realized I can make a difference pursuing my own interests.”

He called on friends, family, business owners and medical professionals to reach his fundraising goal of $3,500. As a researcher vested in advancing global health, he found advocating for access to clean water wasn’t a hard sell.

Choose a Challenge group atop Mount Kilimanjaro
Arsany Makkar joined a hiking team that included students from Ramapo College, New York University and Montclair State University.
Photo: Courtesy of Arsany Makkar
“Water-borne disease in Tanzania is a major contributor to illness and hospitalizations,” said Makkar. ”I told them their donations would help cure people.”

In the months leading up to his trip, Makkar prepped for the high-altitude hike with once-a-week high intensity cardio training using an oxygen mask to decrease his airflow. However, the former high school track and volleyball player still took Diamox on the mountain as a preventative measure to combat AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness, which feels like the flu or a hangover with severe exhaustion and chest tightness and can be fatal.

“I have healthy lungs,” said Makkar, “but 20,000 feet is a whole other ball game.”


For media inquiries, contact Lisa Intrabartola at 848-932-0554 or lisa.i@rutgers.edu