| In October I was thrilled to be a part of a group of Building a Caring Community (BCC – our Tanzanian program) employees and friends who embarked on a journey to the top of Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro. The purpose of our climb was to raise funds to finish the construction of new buildings for some of our centers.
Our group included a Swedish friend, a Kenyan friend, a local BCC staff member, the previous Mosaic International fellow and myself. The trip took 6 days, the first two spent slowly ascending the mountain, the third spent hiking around for acclimatization and the fourth on our way to our final base camp. The summit ascent began at 11:30 pm on the fourth night and we hiked with headlamps for 7 hours in the dark. Although altitude sickness was not kind to some of our group, two of us made it to the top.
We reached the rim of the crater as the sun was rising, and then after another 2 hours of hiking past glaciers and through the strongest bitter cold wind I’ve ever felt, we finally reached Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa. We spent the next two days sliding and stumbling down the mountain and arrived home, a little sick and very sore, but feeling very successful!
Climbing mountain metaphors may be cliché, but during our hike I had a lot of time to reflect on how climbing Kilimanjaro taught me a really important lesson as I work here in Tanzania.
The biggest thing that anyone will tell you about climbing Kili is that you have to go slow. The Kiswahili phrase for this, “pole pole”, is repeated all the time. If you attempt to ascend the mountain too fast, you are much more likely to succumb to altitude sickness. It takes time for your body to get used to the different levels of oxygen. As a result, we followed our guide at what many Americans would find a maddeningly slow pace. Every step was careful and deliberate; every breath was deep and measured.
BCC and Mosaic International have built a really amazing program here in Moshi. Coming in as a new fellow I’ve been filled with the urge to hit the ground running. I have always been a person constantly on the move and I spent last year in Beijing, where the pace of life and of change is dizzyingly fast. There is so much potential here and I arrived feeling extremely eager to get started and continue to perfect and expand the great services BCC provides here.
Climbing Kili reminded me to take it slow. Learning a new language, becoming accustomed to the local culture and building relationships with new friends and colleagues all takes time. Also, anyone who has done work with children with special needs knows that progress on building skills is an exercise in patience and perseverance. Even small milestones can take a long time to achieve, but these victories are so rewarding when they happen.
Moreover, “pole pole” is an important motto for international outreach work. Too many projects in the developing world have failed because they ignored these lessons. Outsiders with good intentions have had their big dreams dashed because they started out with a little too much hubris and far too much hurry. They don’t take the time or the intentional steps that focus on sustainability. They are too committed to their own vision, instead of working in cooperation with others who understand the local context much better and should be empowered to improve their own community.
This is why it was really special for me to reach the summit of Uhuru Peak with Shaeli. She is in charge at BCC’s Moshi 2 center, one of the ones in need of a new building that we are raising money for. At Mosaic International our philosophy is to “walk with our partners”, and here I was doing it literally. I am so proud of us for making it all the way to the top together and for encouraging each other through knee pains, frozen fingers and sheer exhaustion.
Now that we have returned to Moshi from up above the clouds and I am back to work, I’m focused on working with the rest of the BCC staff to keep us moving towards our goals of sustainable services for people with disabilities and their families. Although on a day-to-day basis the steps we take to help the children learn and grow and to build a society that is inclusive of people with disabilities may feel small and slow, as a co-worker said to me yesterday, “I know that, together, we will make GREAT changes!”
We are continuing to collect donations from friends and supporters of our climb. We had great support, but we still have a way to go to fully fund the construction work. Check out the website www.kilimanjarocharity.com for more information on donating specifically to the climb and to the construction of these new facilities. To find out more about ways to donate and support the work done by BCC and Mosaic International, visit www.mosaicinternational.org.