VCU chemistry major scales Mount Kilimanjaro, collects donated toys for pediatric patients

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Shinal Patel, a junior chemistry major, recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as part of a project to collect donated toys and gifts for patients of Children's Hospital of RichmondChildren’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

Virginia Commonwealth University student Shinal Patel recently returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, to not only challenge herself but also to collect donated toys and gifts for patients of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

Patel, a junior in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences, volunteers during the school year with Child Life, which seeks to help young patients at CHoR adjust to unfamiliar hospital surroundings through playful activities and celebrations.

Patel poses with Mount Kilimanjaro guide, Said.
Patel poses with Mount Kilimanjaro guide, Said.

“As a volunteer, Child Life helps me to help the young patients engage in age-appropriate activities and games,” she said. “During the short time [I’ve spent] with the patients, I have seen some struggle with the idea of being in hospital and they tell me how much their stay has been made easier because of the aims of Child Life and the volunteers and activities that the department provides.”

When Patel set out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro over the summer, it seemed like a great opportunity to solicit toy and gift donations for the pediatric patients.

“The department is always making good use of the toys and gifts and for the many patients that come and go — the donations of toys and gifts are always welcomed,” she said.

Going to Africa and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro had been on Patel’s bucket list for some time, she said. 

“I am a premedical student and as I am about to enter my junior year, my next academic year will become busy with preparations for medical school applications,” she said. “So, I felt this summer to be the perfect time for me to travel and complete my climb to the roof of Africa.”

The climb, she said, was the toughest mental and physical challenge she had ever undertaken.

“The mountain elevates to 19,341 feet and, not having been so high up before during a hike, I did have my reservations about whether I would summit the mountain or not, given that the Kilimanjaro National Park reports a summit success of less than 50 percent,” she said. “The terrain was different each day — rainforest, moorlands, the great and rocky Barranco Wall, and arctic zones. There were various vegetation zones with varying sorts of monkeys and birds. It was unbelievable to see the different zones all on one mountain.”

The terrain was different each day — rainforest, moorlands, the great and rocky Barranco Wall, and arctic zones.

The night she conquered the summit was the toughest point of the trip, she said.

“There were so many times I felt like I should stop and climb back down the mountain, but I battled through the altitude sickness with the constant reminder in my head telling me to fulfill my dream of summiting the highest point in Africa and remembering the donations that people have made for the kids,” she said.

“The guides were brilliant in supporting the climbers and providing motivation,” she added. “The feeling to successfully summit was indescribable. The pictures do not do justice to the amazing views from the top of the mountain. It was at this point, where I could see the tough climbing days were all worth the view.”

Patel is continuing to ask for new toy, book and gift donations for pediatric patients. To contribute, email her at She will also be collecting donations at the Starbucks at Cabell Library on Aug. 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.


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