Climbing Kilimanjaro for Unseen: One man’s fight to end slavery

Inspired by Unseen's mission, dedicated supporter, Ian Hawkins, took on the challenge of climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for our fight against modern slavery. Discover his inspiring journey and how you can join the fight.
Ian poses at the Uhuru Peak summit with an Unseen banner. Kilimanjaro climb to fight slavery.
Ian at the summit – Uhuru Peak

Ever dreamt of conquering one of the world’s highest peaks while making a difference in the world? Ian Hawkins, a dedicated Unseen supporter, didn’t just climb Mount Kilimanjaro for the thrill. He did it to fight modern slavery, a cause that hit close to home after learning about its scope through his work.

Read his inspiring journey, told in his words, as he goes from discovery to impact. See how you can be part of this climb for freedom and leave your mark in the fight against slavery.

A workplace wake-up call

It is perhaps slightly embarrassing that I only became aware of the work of Unseen relatively recently. Maybe I’m not alone in that admission and maybe that by itself tells a bit of a story about the size of task that Unseen have decided to take on.

I first learned about Unseen through my work as a Compliance Officer for a large multinational corporation, while we were exploring our modern slavery risks in light of the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act.

Prior to that, I had no idea how much of an issue modern slavery is, both globally and specifically in the UK. Like millions of other consumers, I had never truly considered where all the products around me came from, and how they might have been produced.  

Since then, I’ve been amazed by the breadth of work that Unseen does with businesses, schools and the public to combat this issue. I have tried to do what I can to educate as many people as possible, while sharing the impact of Unseen. I can’t imagine how much work and resource it must take to keep funding and staffing a national Helpline alone, not to mention all the advocacy, case work and referrals.

Ian and his guide trek through the snow, above the cloud line on the final approach to the summit of Kilimanjaro
Ian and his guide on Summit day, above the cloud line
Toubkal to Kilimanjaro: pushing limits for a cause

Outside of work, I’m a huge lover of all things outdoors: cycling, hiking, and more recently, mountain climbing.

In 2022, I climbed my first “proper” mountain, Mount Toubkal in Morocco, with a colleague and Thea Cooper, Unseen’s own Senior Business Account Manager. Together, we raised about £5,000.

When the opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro presented itself, I jumped at the chance. I tend to generally take the view that since you never know what will happen in the future, you have to take opportunities whilst they’re still on the table or you may never get the chance again.

Fundraising with small steps

Whilst climbing one of the famous Seven Summits is rewarding in and of itself, it felt like a bit of a wasted opportunity to not use something like that to raise money and awareness for charity, and I instantly thought of partnering with Unseen again.

Knowing that I wasn’t just doing this for myself but for a deserving charity really provided that extra bit of motivation, both when training and when on the mountain.

As anyone who’s climbed a mountain before knows, there are plenty of low moments when you need that extra push to keep going onward. Mount Kilimanjaro was certainly no exception.

My main method for fundraising was not particularly innovative. Starting with friends, family, and colleagues, followed by a few public social media posts, I ended up raising £1,500.

I’m really happy with the result, especially since I’d have been climbing Kili anyway. I found people only really needed the slightest of nudges to swing behind what I was doing.

Ian poses with an Unseen banner at Stella Point, a false summit stop off point before the summit
Ian at the false summit “Stella Point”
A breathtaking ascent up Kilimanjaro

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro’s Machame route offered diverse landscapes through many different zones over the course of seven days. You start off amidst the rainforests at the base of the mountain, soon winding up and emerging on open moorlands. Up through lava plains and plateaus, you can now get really clear views of the ridgeline of the summit.

The trek itself was tough. Probably the toughest thing I’ve ever chosen to do.

By the end of the seven days, I was exhausted, really running on empty, mentally as well as physically. Although I had guides with me, being the only participant due to a few last-minute cancellations made it so much tougher.

Day Three’s vertical Barranco Wall climb was the most challenging, and then you start to find yourself in the snow line and above the clouds, which is just breath-taking.

Beyond the peak: a view with purpose

Reaching the false summit, Stella Point, offered stunning views (despite seeing the cloud rolled up at just the wrong moment!). Then it was onto one of the three actual summits.

There truly is nothing quite like reaching a mountain peak. That moment when you’re right at the top and you look back on where you just came from; the continent spread out below you. Spending a week on the mountain stripped away all that everyday baggage we surround ourselves with.

I’m immensely privileged to have completed this challenge, but even more pleased to use it as a way to raise money for a great cause. I urge any like-minded folks to do the same.   

Join the climb: fight slavery, empower lives

Inspired by Ian’s trek? Take your own step towards freedom. Check out our range of charity challenges for individuals and organisations and get in touch with our Fundraising team about next steps.

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.