Friday, September 26, 2014

Feel good news

Today's news makes me feel hopeful for the world. If you have been reading my blog posts for the last couple of years, you will remember that last year, I trained and climbed Kilimanjaro with my daughter Sunita, my sister Sabena, and three friends. 

On Day 5 of the trip, Sunita, Sabena had to abort the rest of the climb at Mawenzi Tarn because Sunita succumbed to Acute Mountain Sickness. Descent is mandatory and rather than risk death, we chose life. Sunita, somewhat disappointed, felt that she was ruining my trip but I was going to have it no other way but to go down with her. Sabena was feeling equally bad as she was really suffering from the dust storm that was raging the night before.

We descended to Horombo Huts on Day 6 and then to Marangu Gates on Day 6. We were accompanied by our lead guide Godfrey. During those two days, on that long solitary walk back down, we had lots to talk about. I spent some time talking to Godfrey, respect for him growing with each conversation. What I did not blog about is the details of those conversations. I am now happy to share some of those details.

Godfrey and I talked at length about his life, his dreams and his realities. He told me about his wife and daughter and how much he wanted the best life for them but with the responsibility of taking care of his father and of his bright younger brother who was expelled from school because Godfrey could not afford the tuition fees, my heart at once went out to him. Then my head took over and I became suspicious that this was another "feel sorry for me" story that is told to every gullible tourist in an effort to extort money, although he did not ask for any money.

During our conversations, I asked if could choose to do anything else but the slavish work of mountain guide, what would he choose. He said that he wanted to start his own gear rental business but every time he saved a few hundred dollars of the USD $2,500 he thought he needed, some emergency came up and he had to spend it (sick parent, sick child, brother's tuition fees).

Something in me made me think that Godfrey's story was different and by the end of the climb, going only from gut feelings, I was convinced that he was telling the truth about his life. I guess it was my implicit respect for him - a stranger only a few days ago - and is concern and regard for getting us over the very rugged Mawenzi Tarn, high altitude and some long paths over two days down to safety. Or maybe it was the care he took to make sure our tent was set up in just the right spot out of the wind at Horombo Huts. Or maybe it was the care and concern he showed when Sunita was throwing up along the long walk to Horombo and the encouragement he gave her to eat some soup that night. As a mother, I can be a protective lion and I cherish the thought that someone was looking after my cub.

It was all of those things and more. It was the collective gut feeling of me, Sunita and Sabena that made us, over the next two days in Moshi, think about how we could help Godfrey. We finally decided that we would fund him to start his business with an interest-free loan and hope that he would take the opportunity to build a better life for he and his family and most especially his daughter who deserves a fighting chance to education and a good life. 

When we met him two days later, we told him that we would help him and he hugged us but we must have looked like any other group of tourists who made grand gestures and wild promises but who, soon after leaving, forget those they left behind. We asked him to put together a business plan which he did but it was far from a real plan. Donna F, one of the friends who went with us, offered to help Godfrey put together a more realistic 3 year plan with achievable goals as well as a sound repayment schedule for the interest free loan. Donna L tried to source some external funding similar to my crowd-funding KIVA. Programs I looked at would either take too long or would require particular criteria to qualify for funding so we didn't pursue that.

In March finally had everything in place - a sound financial plan and Godfrey had already started sourcing some inventory from other guides. We sent the money, putting our trust in Godfrey that he would make this work and we would get our money back eventually. I am happy to say that Godfrey's business has taken off and he has already made is first quarterly repayment of $250. That has to be my BEST "feel good" story of the year. 

If you or anyone you know is planning to climb Kilimanjaro and you need/want to rent gear (which you will most likely need to; we did), you can contact me by posting a comment on the blog, or you can contact Godfrey at the information below.

Godfrey's contact info.

Rental gear

Rental gear

Rental gear

Rental gear

Godfrey's daughter (who will have a good life)
We did not get to the top of Kilimanjaro although we got as far as about 15,000 feet but in the end what we got from this experience was so much more ... faith in humanity.

Oh Happy Day!!

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