Asante! That’s Kiswahili for thanks and even in two languages “thank you” seems so inadequate to express how I feel about the outpouring of support I received from my friends and family. I apologize if this turns into a stream of consciousness but I have so much I want to say so bear with me!
First, let me say that this whole “Climbing Kili for Kids” project started as a simple wish to do something simple but positive for the people of Africa. As I planned my trip and poured money into it, I realized that I didn’t want to just be another Mzungu (white person in Kiswahili) who rolled into town, hired porters in imperialistic fashion, then jetted home to my middle class life, never giving another thought to the struggles in an impoverished country. I knew that part of this adventure needed to focus on others since so much of it would be focused on myself (let’s face it…when I am gasping for oxygen at 15K feet, I think I’ll be a little self involved). Long story short, I decided to focus on children. As a teacher I am horrified daily by the struggles some of my own little babies endure here in the United States so I can’t even begin to imagine what children in less affluent countries must endure. The reality is that in many, many countries around the world there is no such thing as a “free appropriate public education” (which is afforded to ALL American children under federal law) and there is no Medicaid to provide poor children with access to medical care. So many children are forced into orphanages for many reasons such as, but not limited to: death of parents, illness, abandonment, lack of resources, etc. In some cases the children have family but the economic situation is so dire that the family must give up the child in order to keep the others alive. Imagine making that choice? Diseases which don’t touch most of us in America are grim realities in East Africa. Malaria, HIV, and ailments related to malnutrition and access to fresh water are daily obstacles to many. I could go on and on about the issues facing children in East Africa but you get the picture…the need is massive and regardless of how small I knew I wanted to take action.
I knew I wanted to help an orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania since Arusha will serve as my “base camp”. Arusha is one of the towns near Kilimanjaro and it is where I will stay before and after my climb/safari. I did some research and kept coming back to an organization called Neema House. Neema House is a great place that takes in babies! Sadly, in TZ many orphanages won’t take in babies because of the enormous cost associated with caring for an infant (any parent will attest to this, I am sure). Formula, healthcare, constant supervision, etc. adds up! Luckily, Neema House is there to fill the void! Please check out their Facebook page to see photos and updates of the amazing things taking place!
The second organization I chose was Orphans Medical Network International in Zambia. I’d never heard of OMNI until one day in November when, after booking my flight and trip, I heard that one of the youth pastors at my church was moving his family to Zambia in order to be the in country directors. It seemed like divine providence that the moment I decided to fundraise for orphans in Africa, Robert and Emily became directors for OMNI! OMNI does amazing things too! They provide education and hot meals for over 200 children a day! They also provide mobile medical teams to tribal regions of Zambia. You can check out OMNI’s website to learn more http://www.omnimissions.com
So with the organizations chosen, my next step was to figure out HOW to make a difference. The most simple solution seemed like good ol’ fashioned begging fundraising! That’s where my beloved friends and family came in! I know the past three or four months on Facebook have probably been some of the most annoying on record! I realize that it can be painful to see someone posting every three minutes about something, especially when they’re begging for money! Thank you for putting up with me and my posts.
Initially, I had no idea how much to raise. I thought my fundraising efforts would generate little interest so initially I decided on…get this…$600. At the time, $600 seemed almost impossible. However, my friend Sonia suggested that I aim higher and shoot for $2,000. I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to raise that much money! $2,000 is a TON of money to me. Maybe it is to you too! In hindsight, I feel foolish for not having more faith in the generosity of others. Actually, I take that back. It’s not that I didn’t think my friends and family are generous. It’s just…well…times are hard. Really hard. The economy sucks, 1/3 of all my friends and either unemployed or under employed and honestly, East Africa is a far away place and I just didn’t expect it to tug on the heart-strings the way other charities might. Furthermore, every time we turn around there is always someone asking for money for something and I realize that you can’t always give to everyone who comes along begging..er…fundraising.
With that said, before I thank all those who gave so generously, I want to start by thanking all the people who wanted to give but just couldn’t for whatever reason. I received sooooo many heartfelt messages from people who wanted to give, who truly wanted to support this effort and make a difference but due to various hardships and circumstances, just couldn’t. I completely understand and with complete sincerity, allow me to say that your thoughts meant as much to me as any monetary donation you could have made. Truly. *I’m tearing up right now…I hope no one walks in and sees me crying in front of my lap top whilst watching Chopped. That would be awkward.* Thank you.
Next, allow me to thank all those who cross posted my link and statuses on Facebook. I have received many anonymous donations as well as donations from people I don’t know and that’s simply because of my friends who put the word out! You’re amazing and it overwhelms me to know that even in the final hours of this fundraising you were there, beside me in spirit, trying to raise money for children! Thank you.
I also want to thank my dad, step mom, and precious friend Tresa Walko for helping me create the “donor flag” that I plan to carry to the summit of Kilimanjaro (God willing!) . I bought some canvas and eyelets and my step mom broke out the sewing machine to stitch it together while my dad hammered in the eyelets. My artistic friend Tresa painted it and it looks amazing! All that is left to do is add the names of the donors and I’m pleased to say in Spielberg fashion, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat flag!” Ha! I’m going to have to write very tiny to fit 65 names on this puppy! But it thrills me to know that with every step up that mountain, I will carry all of you with me in spirit and in name! I am certain that once altitude sickness kicks in and I am hurling my innards out , I will want to quit…but I won’t. I will refuse to turn back because I now have an obligation to carry this flag to the roof of Africa! All your names WILL fly proudly on the world’s tallest free-standing mountain! I am honored and humbled to make the journey!
Finally, I want to thank ALL of you who have donated money to this cause! I am completely gobsmacked (I’ve been watching BBC and I heard that phrase…lol) by the generosity of all of you. I NEVER expected to raise so much and I never expected to have such unrelenting support. Every time I put the call out there, you all answered! (Too bad you don’t answer my real calls like that…quit screening me! haha). I had donations from all over the world…from as far away as Georgia and Texas to as close as Vinton and Salem! I even had a donation from a friend in Wales, UK! In a way Climbing Kili for Kids became a global effort! I even had children donating their allowance money to the cause. Children helping children is awesome! Thanks Shelby and Marin Fiddler! 😉
This adventure to Africa started as a bucket list dream I had over 5 years ago. I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. In one week I will hop on a plane to make that dream come true. But that dream won’t change the world. There is no ripple effect and no lives will be better if I reach the summit. But Climbing Kili for Kids will make a difference. Innocent children, whose lives are not easy, will have full bellies, warm homes, and an education thanks to the money you gave. What a phenomenal impact! How often can you give a few dollars and know that you changed the life of someone? I’m not a financial expert but I’d say that’s a pretty good return on your investment!
I’d like to end this arduously long post by saying that fundraising has been a life changing experience for me. When I set up the fundraising page I posted a quote from Mother Teresa (Go Albania!) which stated, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” Every single one of you, beloved friends, have proven this to be true! The vast majority of donations were in small amounts. We didn’t surpass the $2,000 goal and reach $3,000 because everyone threw down large chunks of money (but uber thanks to those of you who were able to donate large amounts. It definitely helped!). We surpassed the goal and reached a new one because MANY people did small things with great love. *crying again, damn it*
My next goal is to reach Uhuru, the summit of Kilimanjaro. But for now, I really can’t get any higher. Thank you. Asante sana.