Johannes Malebana, an alumni from South Africa who studied business at Whatcom Community College in 2012-2013, writes about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro since he has returned home. Johannes went on the trip as a representative of Tomorrow Trust, a nonprofit organization providing education and holistic support to orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa. Since he returned home, Johannes has done an internship with Tomorrow Trust where he is teaching math and literacy to middle school children. While he was a participant in NWCCI, Johannes was an active student writer; you can read his previous articles on culture sharing and a poem he read at the 2012-2013 graduation.
As a representative of the Tomorrow Trust, I had the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro through the Kilimanjaro Initiative, a program aimed at encouraging young people to believe in themselves and providing opportunities that will enable them to play a constructive role in their communities. As a key feature of its activities, the initiative organizes an annual ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the African continent.
I spent 10 days in Kenya and the rest of the time in Tanzania. The 10-day training camp in Loitokitok, Kenya was a confirmation that we are all the same despite our differences. Spending the 10 days with nine other youths from both the USA and East Africa made me think about how much impact you can have on other people without knowing it. I still think it is insane how three simple weeks and a few strangers can change your life. I don’t remember the last time I connected with people like this. The stories shared by the people we climbed with are inspirational and almost unbelievable in terms of what they are doing for their communities.
I made it to Uhuru, the highest peak in Africa on my own two feet. It sounds easy but not after you already walked for four days and on the fourth day, you wake up at midnight and walk until sunrise at the slowest pace you could ever imagine.
I learned two things at the camp. First, you have to speak up and get your point across; whatever you are thinking might be what everyone was waiting to hear. Second, you have to trust. Almost all the activities that we did during the training focused on working with and trusting those around you. Trust came in to play when we were descending the mountain; the altitude was so bad that we were not in control of our bodies. This was when the guides took care of us like they were looking after their own kids. There comes a time in our lives were we need to let go and trust those around us to get us through situations and challenges.
If there is one thing I won’t forget from the whole trip is the rock climbing exercise during the training camp. It is not that different from life. The rock is the life that we are living; the small rocks that we hold on to are opportunities. It’s not easy climbing a rock and the same can also be said about life. You have to have the drive to make it to the top of the rock to enjoy the view. While climbing, there are small rocks that can be seen from a distance and sometimes you even have to stop and look carefully for them. That is like opportunities in life, they are always there, and you just have to look carefully. Some are so tiny you might even think that they are not even there.
Making it to Uhuru has taught me to never give up. Nothing will ever just find its way to your plate, you have to go out and get it. Through it all and like the Tanzanians say in Swahili, “Pole-pole, you have to take it slowly-slowly like you are climbing the highest mountain in Africa.”
Never has anything challenged me like this before, pushing me to my absolute limit and beyond.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.