Top of the World

I made it to the top with Jordyn and Robert. Could not have asked for better hiking buddies!

Made it to the top with these two amazing people, Jordyn and Robert. Could not have asked for better hiking buddies!

It’s hard to even begin describing last week. Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro for 7 days was beyond my wildest imaginations. First of all, the idea of living on a mountain for a week had me apprehensive to say the least. I knew we would sleep on the ground in tents and go without a shower. That in and of itself was scary for me. I love my sleep and showers. But, on top of that, we would be climbing to 19,341 feet and hiking over 40 miles.
It was absolutely amazing. Something about living in a tent and minimizing your needs for a week is freeing and calming. I felt more myself. No cell phones, no internet, no distractions. Just me, the mountain and two amazing friends that had me laughing the entire week. Just thinking about the week brings a huge smile to my face, because so many jokes and memories come rushing to my mind that make me laugh.
The sight at the top brought pure joy. We made it. Our guide had timed our ascent to the summit perfectly, so we arrived just as the sun was rising. My body held up and handled the altitude – well, maybe with the help of some meds – but all I felt was pure joy. A sense that we made it and it was a glorious sight.
I think that’s all I can say at this point – except I must give huge props to our tour company. If you think you may be interested, Zara Tours is the way to go. They are owned by a Tanzanian woman, have been in business for over 27 years and have very experienced guides from the local community. They were professional, fun, and supportive the entire journey.
Here are a few of my favorite photos, but I’m sure I’ll share more in the weeks to come.
View of the top from our hotel in Moshi.

View of Kili from our hotel in Moshi.

Day 2

Day 2

One of our camps on the mountain. We woke up to the most gorgeous views!

One of our camps on the mountain. We woke up to the most gorgeous views!

Getting closer.

Getting closer.

The crew. Two sisters from Sweden were part of our group. They made it to the top as well. Our tour company was very proud!

The crew. Two sisters from Sweden were part of our group. We had a great time with them! They made it to the top as well, so our tour company was very proud!

Clouds and Mt Meru in the distance.

Clouds and Mt Meru in the distance.

Who needs a dining tent when the sun is this bright and warm!?!

Who needs a dining tent when the sun is this bright and warm!?!

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This was one of our favorite spots on the route.

I think we could do an ad for the "Buff".

I think we could do an ad for the “Buff”.

Just past Stella Point, we left to our left and saw the orange tint of the sun coming up...

Just past Stella Point, we looked to our left and saw the orange tint of the sun coming up…

Most amazing sunrise.

Most amazing sunrise from the summit.

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Pure joy.

Glacier at the top. Absolutely beautiful.

Glacier at the top. Absolutely beautiful.

In all honesty, the trip would not have happened if it weren't for this gal. Jordyn organized us and made it happen. I love this sweet friend and this experience has bonded us for life!

In all honesty, the trip would not have happened if it weren’t for this gal. Jordyn organized us and made it happen. I love this sweet friend. This experience has bonded us for life!

Hmmmm...Yes, it took this many people to get 5 of us to the top!

Hmmmm…Yes, it took this many people to get 5 of us to the top!

Our guides, Mndeme and Salim, were with us every step of the way. They are the best!

Our guides, Mndeme and Salim, were with us every step of the way. They are the best!

Looking back on our accomplishment.

Looking back on our accomplishment.

My Favorite Kenyan

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I know, I shouldn’t say who my favorite is, but if you knew Festus, you would agree. Festus Muendo is the Head Teacher at New Hope Academy, the primary school that NHI supports in Kibera. Festus is not only a great educator, he cares deeply about people, and he loves to laugh. If you know me, you know the laughter part is probably what draws me to him.
Festus is the local NHI leader that I work with the most. He works tirelessly and is always striving to better himself as a leader and better the school and NHI projects for the good of the people. I thought I’d let him tell you about himself and his leadership through a short interview I conducted with him last week.
Q: How long have you worked for NHI and what position did you start in?
I have worked at the school for 10 years. At that time, it was called Bible Baptist. I was hired as the class 3 teacher when Pastor Simon learned I had taught Sunday School. The school was smaller then, I only had 23 students in my class. The facilities were poor, classrooms were very much squeezed. We had buildings made of mud walls and there was no playground – just a path to move from one class to another. Teachers were not trained.
Q: Why did you become a teacher?
I had the passion for the kids.
 
Q: Who has been the most influential leader in your life and why?
Personally, my mother has had the greatest influence in my life. She taught me how to fear God and gave me a spiritual foundation. 
Professionally, Sandy and Karen Baird and their family have influenced my leadership by giving order and structure to our projects and teaching me how to better support our projects, staff and students. Also, Chris Gitonga has influenced my leadership in operations and making things better. Chris is always striving for improvement of our facilities and projects. Lauren has influenced my management style at the school. And, Pastor Simon has been a big influence on spiritual matters in my life.
 
Q: How do you define leadership?
To me, leadership is being able to convince people who are not willing to follow you, to follow you. If no one is following you, you are not a leader. It is also being a servant to many. 
Q: What are your hopes and dreams for New Hope Academy?
My dream for NHA is to see 100% of our students pass the KCPE and go onto high school. I would like for New Hope Academy to expand one day and provide high school for our students. Ultimately, I hope these students will return to serve Kibera in the future and become examples of leadership to their community. My big dream is for 2000 students from New Hope Academy to get scholarships and complete college.
Q: Anything else you want to tell my blog readers?
Thank you to our NHI sponsors and all those who support New Hope financially and on the ground. I would love to see more people come help us here in Kenya like Lauren. We are very happy and grateful for the support we receive. Your ministry is real and you are touching lives in Kibera and through that, many people are being blessed.
Festus and his teaching staff at New Hope Academy

Festus and his teaching staff at New Hope Academy

Strength

She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
Proverbs 31:25
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Leadership Team for Project Biashara

Yesterday, at the request of these beautiful women in the above photo, I led a leadership development training on the topics of teamwork, unity and influence. They asked me to host this training, because they want to grow as leaders, so they can lead the other women in our project better and ultimately make the project more successful.
We started with a time of discussion about our values – what matters most to us personally and what matters most to Project Biashara. Then, we got into the tough part of discussing our challenges as a team – what are the barriers to unity and how can we work better as a team. Next we discussed what it means to be a leader. And, what it does not mean. To me, leadership is influence. By that definition, we are all leaders all the time, because we exert a certain amount of influence on the people around us. We must become people of character to lead people of character. We discussed characteristics of leaders and what the women should expect from them. Then, we had a sweet time of prayer and finished with some silly superlatives.
The women of Project Biashara just want to provide for their families. They are not perfect, but they are striving to make a living and care for others. That’s really all they ask. Please pray for them. And, pray for our project. That the leaders would serve the women well and strive to be influencers for good and that our products sell in the US, so we can continue to employ these women and provide for their families and communities.
Check out Project Biashara.

Social Innovation

Photo courtesy of Slumlove Sweater Company

Photo courtesy of Slumlove Sweater Company

I want to take a little break from my regular posts on New Hope Initiative and hiking and share about another work that I’m involved in. My friend, Ava Darnell, is the founder and owner of Slumlove Sweater Company. Slumlove is committed to providing ethically made, high quality products that give back to the community. Ava works with local Kenyan knitters providing jobs for them and opportunity to provide for their families. In addition to using ethical business practices, Ava gives a portion of the profits of her sweaters to New Hope Academy to provide free education to children living in Kibera.
I remember meeting with her over a year ago in a coffee shop in Austin, Texas to hear her vision for Slumlove. She’ll admit, she doesn’t have it all figured out, but I was so impressed that day with her creativity and passion to not only start a business but use it for social good. Since I was moving to Kenya, I offered to help. That has meant helping meet her knitters and facilitating orders or shipping final products to the States. Yesterday, I met with a potential new partner for Slumlove and was reminded how much I love business and how it can be used to do so much good in this world.
I’ve always had an interest and affection for business. When I was young, I use to tell people I wanted to go to college to learn how to make money. So, I majored in Finance and eventually got an MBA. But, my career started out in politics where there is very little money to be made especially when you start as a staffer on Capitol Hill making a salary that is considered below the national poverty line. Over the years, my desire to make money turned into a desire to help others and do social good and, for me, I thought that meant working in ministry or non-profit. Now, I see that making money and doing social good can work together instead of being at odds with one another.  I believe that God can use our businesses to serve others in this world providing opportunity and even serving and caring for the people and world around us. Quite frankly, I don’t think God just “uses” our businesses, I think He has called us (Christians) to this kind of work by being productive with our time and resources  – theologians call this the Creation Mandate (Gen 1:28).
You can call this CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or social innovation or social entrepreneurship, but I think it’s more of a mind-set, a decision when you set out in business to be intentional about how you will conduct your business. It’s not a department or an after thought or something you add on to your existing business model. It is your business model. The purpose of business becomes serving others instead of maximizing shareholders’ profit.
Two of the large companies leading the way in social innovation are Warby Parker and Toms (and I would add Chick-fil-A from my home state has been doing this for years), but there are many entrepreneurs out there like Ava doing this work. I think it is changing the whole landscape of business and how we do business. As I look to what is next for my career, I am hoping this is how I invest my time and resources. We’ll see what that means for me…
In the meantime, take some time to visit Slumlove’s website and purchase a sweater, because it’s not just a sweater, it’s a cause!