About three years ago Tim Challen was airlifted from Nairobi for specialized treatment in Europe facing the prospect of having a leg amputated. The victim of an armed robbery attempt gone awry, this week, he led an international expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro and returned safely.
The expedition of 30 people drawn from more than 10 countries is aimed at raising awareness about the underlying causes of crime in the East African cities of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
“I could have chosen never to set foot in Kenya again but I realized that most of the youths are forced into crime because of lack of opportunities and it is this aspect that I wanted to raise awareness about the problems of crime,” Tim said at a weekend press conference in Marangu on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. His target is to raise at least 50,000 US dollars from the climb.
The climbers are as diverse as their nationalities and backgrounds. It has professionals drawn from different fields like accountancy and financial management. It also has a retired diplomat, unemployed youths from Nairobi slums, as well as their counterparts from Dar-es-Salaam. To add some spice to the initiative, Kenyan music star Gidi Gidi also took time off the stage and donned heavy boots to conquer Africa’s highest mountain.
The incident that would change Tim’s perspective of life occurred in May 2003 when he had just arrived in Kenya to take up an appointment with United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU). A gang of robbers raided his Westlands apartment demanding money. His answer that he didn’t have any apparently infuriated the robbers who then became nasty. One of them opened fire, shattering Tim’s leg. After an extensive surgery, Tim 33, was able to regain use of his leg. He then had the choice of completely forgetting about Kenya and the incident or doing something about it. He decided to confront the problem and hence the decision to organize the expedition.
He said funds raised by the climb would go towards grassroots projects. These include the renovation of a soccer field in the Nairobi’s Kibera slum, start-up money for small businesses run by youths to help fund neighbourhood night security patrols, and a water project in Kiluvya ward in the district of Kinondoni in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He said the sales from the water project would fund a security-watch group. UN- HABITAT will oversee disbursement of the money. The initiative grew substantially with support from UN-HABITAT's Safer Cities Programme that is working with cities to create a culture of prevention and safe environments. The initiative is also geared in support of “Sports for Vulnerable Youth” as part of the UN Decade Campaign on Sports for Peace and Development. To the local Chagga community the 5,896 meter snow-capped summit was simply known as Kilima Kiaro (the huge mountain). However, the name proved quite a tongue twister for European explorers and they renamed it Kilimanjaro. The Chagga revered the mountain and according to local legend, it was the place seers went to seek messages from the gods and convey them to the people. Centuries later, Tim wants to use the same mountain to pass a message to the youth that crime does not pay.
From the Kibera slums are Felix Oduor Otieno, 17, and Judy Waithera. The duo want to use the climb to positively influence their colleagues to stay away from crime. They have both seen how brutal and dangerous life in their community can be. Just before he came to the Outward Bound School in Loitokitok, where the place the climbers spent time before the expedition, a former class mate of Felix’s was gunned down by police in a botched carjacking attempt.
To Waithera, the mother of a boy of two, the problems in Kibera have wizened her and as she speaks, she exudes maturity far beyond her 22 years. She looks at everything philosophically. “Yenyewe crime does not pay. Lakini pia maboys mtaani hawana majob ndiyo maana wengine wanaengage na crime na madame wanaenda K street, she says in Sheng, the mixture of English and Swahili which has become the lingua franca of Nairobi’s youth.
What she means is that although crime does not pay, there is serious lack of jobs and that is why some of the boys engage in crime as some of the girls try their luck on Koinange Street, Nairobi’s red light district. A trained pharmacist, Judy has not managed to get a job and has been working as a house help to help her single mother put bread on the table.
Eliwaza Martin wants to go back to Dar es Salaam and put the team building skills learnt during the climb to better use among the members of the Marimba Arts Group. She wants to be more active in vigilante activities in her estate.
In total, the UNFCU sponsored 10 youths on the expedition, and another was sponsored by the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
On the eve of the climb, the tension in the camp is evident and some of the youths see this as a positive sign, although temper flares are becoming evident. Albert Anaclet Ikonge who works with youth groups in Dar es Salaam says that it helps boost morale of the group. “This is going to be a tough one and the tension can actually work as a morale booster,” he says.
Giving the climbers a pep talk, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka told them to be prepared mentally adding that it is not the physical strength but the will which will see them through. “Sometimes the fittest in the group have come back midway because they could not continue. So don’t look at the physical size but concentrate on working on your will power,” she said.
She should know. As a petite secondary school girl, Mrs. Tibaijuka surprised many, not the least herself, when she successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 1969. She expressed her appreciation to the trainers at the Outward Bound school saying the survival tactics training they offered were invaluable.
During her year of the climb, her team got lost in the wilderness around the mountain. Tired, they decided to spend the night in the bush. The fire they had lit to keep warm turned out to be a saving grace – for immediately a team of park rangers arrived and all the students were literally thrown into a Land Rover that took off in high gear.
It happened that a pack of lions had also been attracted by the fire and was out to make a meal of the students. The hungry lions arrived at the place just as the Land Rover was driving away. “I can still vividly remember the lions, almost 40 years later,” the Executive Director says.
Former Tanzanian High Commissioner to Kenya, General Mrisho Sarakikya also lent his support to the climb by joining them for a section of the adventure. The man credited with planting Tanzanian flag on top of Mount Kilimanjaro at independence has been making an annual pilgrimage of sorts to the top of the mountain without fail.
Musician Gidi Gidi warmed up the team when he asked them to join in the chorus of their runaway hit, “I am Unbwogable” (I cant be intimidated). Gidi Gidi, a UN-HABITAT Messenger of Truth, promised to highlight the problem of crime in his songs.
“This is the first effort of its kind on behalf of Safer Cities and we are proud to work with Tim and UNFCU to continue to strengthen civic responsibility within communities, engage youth and prevent crime,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said as she flagged off the climb.