Looking down the barrel of a gun generates a nightmarish feeling, with human senses thrown into a sinister swirl of emotions – all drained into a dreaded conclusion that one might be at a life’s end. Such were the thoughts of Tim Challen when confronted by such a situation in Kenya, in 2003. A gang of youths broke into his rented accommodation in the search of valuables. With little gains, they let Mr. Challen live, but not without a bullet and shattered bones in his left leg.
Since this traumatic incident, Mr. Challen rebuilt his life and founded the NGO ‘Kilimanjaro Initiative’ (KI). Its aim is to empower young people, by providing them with leadership skills and opportunities that will allow them to become constructive agents of change in their communities.
On 28 February 2009, a group of 31 climbers, assisted by 15 guides, two cooks and 45 porters, made their way through the gates of Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania – on route to the highest point of Africa and the largest freestanding mountain in the world. Brought together by KI, the climbers aimed to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to highlight the importance of creating a sustainable environment, under the United Nations banner ‘UNite to Combat Climate Change.’
The team included young people from disadvantaged communities in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, UN staff and representatives from the private sector. 19 climbers reached the rim of the sleeping volcano, enduring extremely difficult conditions. While glaciers still graced the summit, far less ice is visible than in previous years.
Mr. Challen underlined the issue at stake: “If we don’t do what we can to prevent global warming, unseen weather patterns will severely affect our communities. For example, rising oceans and droughts will force people into urban areas that just won’t have the capacity to deal with those migration flows. This may lead to a greater increase in social ills,” said Mr. Challen.
The annual ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro to the “rooftop of Africa” is at the center of KI's activities. Conquering the mountain provides a ready metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges and was the genesis of the initiative itself. The climb demonstrates how people from all walks of life can come together to unite in overcoming common adversity, raise awareness on issues to which young people are confronted and collect funds for youth-based community projects. Other KI projects have included refurbishing a soccer pitch that was a crime haven, establishing security patrols, developing plans for micro-finance facilities and leading a “Youth Peace” rally in the wake of the Kenyan elections in December 2007.