Rochester native prepares to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro

By Georgia Sparling | Feb 22, 2017
Courtesy of: Allie Cunningham Allie Cunningham plays with kids at the St. Joseph Orphanage.

Allie Cunningham is looking for help to Hike for Heaven.

The Rochester native, who currently lives in Telluride, Colorado, plans to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in June to raise money for Heaven Pre-Primary School in Tanzania.

While a student at the University of Colorado, Cunningham studied abroad in Africa, traveling around the continent and living in tents and local homes while studying wildlife conservation and political ecology.

“I wanted to be a student who engaged herself,” said Cunningham, the daughter of CC and Chris Cunningham. “That helped me get my passion for Tanzania.”

At the end of the program, she signed on to spend three weeks at St. Joseph's Orphanage and the Heaven School, founded by Sister Crispina Mnate.

“There are no bad days with her,” said Cunningham.

Mnate started the St. Joseph’s Orphanage to care for Tanzanian children after she had a dream telling her to save kids, said Cunningham. The next day she found a baby on the side of the road. The sister later established the school as a place where her kids could get an English education and where she could educate local children and thus generate income for the orphanage. There are now around 48 kids in the orphanage, 270 students in the school and several Heaven graduates in university.

After hearing about Mnate’s work, the Unite the World for Africa Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit, stepped up to help. Volunteers put in a latrine system and added mattresses, mosquito nets and an oven among other improvements. Cunningham connected with the group while studying abroad.

“We’re just trying to make everything at the orphanage and Heaven Pre and Primary School grow in a good direction,” she explained.

Before leaving in 2014, the Tabor Academy graduate vowed she would return, and with the Hike for Heaven, she is fulfilling that promise.

Through the fundraiser, Cunningham hopes to raise $5,615 and ascend 19,431 feet. She’s raising as much as she can herself while working four jobs, including a post as a fly fishing guide.

Cunningham is also in charge of engaging twentysomethings across the country in the project. Donation-based events will be held in April, including a hike in Kentucky, a yoga session and, led by Cunningham, a fly fishing clinic. All the money raised through these functions will go to the school. There is also an online fundraising page where anyone can donate toward Cunningham’s trip.

Although it is still some months away, Cunningham is excited to return to Tanzania, a place that feels like a second home.

“I know it won’t be the last time I go out there,” she said. “They’re just incredible people over there.”

To donate to the Hike for Heaven, visit

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