With trek up Kilimanjaro, alumnus raises funds for cleft palate surgeries in developing countries

For five days in June, Seth Cochran '00, M.Eng. '01, braved windswept campsites, 2,000-meter climbs and sleep deprivation to reach his goal: Uhuru Peak, the tallest point of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.

Reaching the 5,895-meter summit did more than give the avid hiker a feeling of accomplishment. A few months previous, Cochran had dedicated himself to the climb with the goal of raising $25,000 for the charity The Smile Train, which provides cleft palate and lip repair surgeries for children in underdeveloped countries.

Cochran, who studied operations research at Cornell's College of Engineering and lives in Berlin, is a financial manager for the multinational telecommunications equipment manufacturer ADC.

Since leaving Cornell, Cochran has quickly built up a global mindset, having lived in several places, including Denver, Colo., and Edinburgh, Scotland. A seasoned traveler, Cochran has also spent time in poorer regions of Thailand and other countries, experiences that opened his eyes to global poverty and the power of Western money.

"I can't imagine how you could see things like that and not feel compelled to act," Cochran said.

Before deciding to climb Kilimanjaro, Cochran was already heavily involved in charitable work through his company's foundation, which provides financial support for math, science and technological initiatives in needy communities. Through the foundation, he has set up charitable giving programs in such countries as Germany, Australia, the Czech Republic and India.

Always on the lookout for new opportunities, Cochran decided one day that, on top of his other charitable work, he wanted to do a fund-raiser on his own. He settled on supporting The Smile Train, to which he had been a donor for a number of years, and to seek sponsors who would support his climbing Kilimanjaro while he took time off from work.

The Smile Train has helped more than 200,000 children in developing countries receive the relatively simple, inexpensive surgery to repair cleft lips and palates, which are congenital facial deformities that often result in isolation or ostracism in some communities.

For $250, the organization can provide a surgery for one child. Cochran also said he likes the charity because it works with local doctors and hospitals to do the surgeries.

Cochran returned from his trip in late June and is just short of his $25,000 goal, though he is confident he will exceed it. He has raised the money through individual donations as well as through matching corporate donations, all of which comprise 180 donors in 20 countries. Even a restaurant he frequents in Berlin agreed to sponsor him.

Cochran sees no end in sight for his charitable work, whether through more individual fund-raisers or through work with larger organizations. His fervor for community service comes in part from growing up in a family that wasn't wealthy but was always giving to others. Cochran also financed his own education at Cornell, working several jobs.

But beyond his relatively humble beginnings, Cochran says he is compelled to service by witnessing the devastation of poverty around the world.

"When you see people in other countries who don't have as much as you do, you feel a responsibility to help them. It really strikes your soul," Cochran said.

Cochran has chronicled his Kilimanjaro fund-raising efforts on his Web site, http://summitforsmiles.org. Instructions for direct donations to The Smile Train can be found through the site.

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