In July 2014, a group of men climbed toward Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. The group was led by 2 men using prosthetic legs. 21-year-old, University of Texas student, Alex D’Jamoos was one of those leaders, and this was his second trip up the Tanzanian mountain.
In an interview, Alex told the University of Texas at Austin, “The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate that children with disabilities have the ability to overcome great challenges.”
In an interview for his first trek, Alex described the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro as an amputee for the first time, to the University of Texas at Austin, “I was somewhat unprepared to climb Africa’s tallest mountain. Prosthetic legs are very difficult to use in such extreme conditions.”
Despite being admittedly un-athletic and under-prepared, Alex set his goal to reaching the second base camp. Despite his level of preparation, Alex exceeded his goal and made it to the third base camp (the last base camp before the peak). The trek had lasted 4 days and covered 26 miles, reaching over 16,000 feet above seal level.
While most people who achieve such goals are driven by the challenge of finding their limits, Alex had a different goal. In Alex’s case, it was paying-it-forward.
Alex first Met Natasha Shaginian-Needham in 2006. Shaginian-Needham is the co-founder of Happy Families International Center, a U.S.-Russian NGO that helps to formalize adoption of Russian children in the United States and provides appropriate medical care for orphans with special needs, and was in Russia filming a documentary. Through Natasha, Alex met Michael and Helene D’Jamoos of Dallas, Texas, who agreed to host Alex on a trip to the United States, where a hospital had agreed to amputate his deformed legs and fit him with prostheses.
It was during this time that Alex became part of the D’Jamoos family, quite literally, when at the age of 16, he was adopted by Michael and Helene.
Since then, Alex has remained extremely aware of the opportunity he was given. He works hard to aid and create awareness for disabled orphans in Russia, continuing his work with Happy Families International, volunteering as a translator and spokesperson, as he has done for the last several years. Unfortunately, foreign politics have changed, and the opportunity that existed for Alex, has disappeared in 2012, when Russia banned all adoption of Russian children, by Americans.
Alex told The Daily Texan, “Whenever you have a child living in an orphanage, and that child has an opportunity to have a family,” D’Jamoos said. “As long as the family can prove in court that they are capable of taking care of the child, then I think the color of their passport is the last thing that matters.”
This past summer; however, Alex got another opportunity. He would return to Kilimanjaro for a hike that would benefit the “I Want to Walk” program of the Happy Families International Center, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Along with raising awareness for orphans with missing limbs and children with Cystic Fibrosis, Alex had another goal – the summit.
Having found the use of prosthetic legs challenging during his first Kilimanjaro trek, Alex elected to make the final summit without his prosthetics this time.
“I wore my ski pants and taped myself all over with duct tape,” D’Jamoos told The Daily Texan. “I wore ski gloves and just kind of crawled on the ground. I destroyed my knuckles. They were bleeding after two hours.”
However, his biggest obstacles wasn’t necessarily the peak itself, but rather an unforeseen inhabitant of the mountain – African ants.
I was being bitten all over,” D’Jamoos said. “I would look on the ground ahead and it was just full of ants, it was crazy.”
Despite bloody knuckles and several ant bites, Alex D’Jamoos summitted Kilimanjaro’s peak – 19,341 ft above sea level.
While Alex may have achieved a summit that most of us can only dream about, he remains engaged in his true goal.
In a recent interview with Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Alex explained, “It’s really not a financial issue. It’s not an economic issue. It’s a social issue,” he says. “You have a social catastrophe, essentially, with such a large number of orphans [in Russia] — some sources estimate 800,000 — and there’s no money in the world you can fix this with. It starts with the cultural realization that you have disabled people who you should accommodate, who you have to accommodate, into your society.”
Alex and Natasha Shaginian-Needham also created and maintain Orphans Without Borders, a Facebook page developed to help stand up “for orphaned children’s right for a family by sharing life-changing experiences of adopted children from all over the world.” In just over one year, the page has received over 2,800 “Likes.”
Click here to learn more about Happy Families International Center.
Click here to learn more about about Orphans Without Borders.
Click here to learn more about the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
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