by Alison Qualter Berna
Twelve-year-old Priella called out to me as I walked out of the overcrowded classroom in Moshi, Tanzania and simply said, “Wait, Alison, before you go…” I turned to approach her with a smile and in that moment I knew she was a kid who believed she could do more than her circumstances allowed. She wanted to fly.
A few days earlier, I had fulfilled a lifelong dream to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. I climbed to the “roof of Africa” with four friends, one of whom is blind. Together we summited in the fastest amount of time possible to set a record for an athlete who is blind (we did it in 2 ½ days) and we trekked at night to simulate, even in the smallest way, what it’s like to live in darkness.
Climbing Kilimanjaro already had inherent value. We could go home and share our story with our kids, friends and family for the rest of our lives. But our intention was to use our experience for something greater than ourselves; how could we share a message of hope and empowerment with children who desperately need it? If my friend Dan couldn’t see and yet climbed Africa's tallest mountain anyway, the message was simple: each person is capable of much more than they may realize.
On the descent down the mountain through what felt like moon sand, I was dreaming about the schools we would visit in the days after our return to Moshi. As part of the preparation for our trip, I reached out to my network and within a few months we discovered programs that support children who are blind, street children and impoverished schools that might want to share in our messages of hope. Within a few months, I had virtually connected with three principals/directors (two in Tanzania and one in Kenya) and after doing some research, holding several Skype calls and assessing what each situation entailed, we planned three events where we could share Dan’s accomplishment and inspire the children.
At the Mwereni school for 600 sighted, blind and albino children in Moshi, Dan shared his bravery to take on the challenge of climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro unable to see. The hope in the room was palpable as kids lit up under the gravity of his message. If he could do it blind, couldn’t they?
As I took the podium, I saw faces of young girls in front of me and focused my message on what it’s like to be the only girl in a group of male friends. I asked them what they felt was possible in their own lives and what they thought might be stopping them. I challenged them to take the time to set their own intentions, goals and dreams, however small, however grand.
In that classroom two hours later, Priella’s eyes reflected that she heard me. She wanted someone to hear her intentions, goals and dreams. She asked for my email and we continue to stay connected. Perhaps with someone even climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
When you are immersed in the developing world, every word matters. Every dollar counts. You quickly realize that the material trappings of success we surround ourselves with is sometimes just noise crowding out the true connection of the human spirit and the simplest way to be.
In that simplicity you find the most basic truths. That we all deserve a chance. That as sentient beings, we are not that dissimilar. And that all of us have hope, a hope that can carry any one of us to the top of the tallest mountain.
To donate to this amazing school and the various causes my team and I are dedicated to, please visit our website at www.teamseepossibilities.com