Kili Climb 2016 Reflections by Baba Anna/Dr. Kurt - February 8th, 2016

[These remarks were given by Dr. Thurmaier as part of the ceremony presenting the Nyegina community with the funds raised by the 2016 Kilimanjaro Climb.]

There are few privileges that are above watching the sun rise from the top of the world’s highest free-standing mountain and Africa’s highest peak. This group of volunteers experienced this amazing sight the morning of Saturday, 30 January, 2016, and we reached Uhuru [Independence] Peak together at 7:45 AM.


Sunrise over Africa on way to Kilimanjaro Summit

Sunrise over Africa on way to Kilimanjaro Summit

We were crying and hugging each other—words were few for a moment—because the emotion of the moment was so high.

You need to understand that this exhilarating moment in each of our lives, and in our life together as a family, came after much, much hard work by each person on the amazing climb from Moshi Town to 5895 meters high atop Mt. Kilimanjaro. Each of us had to prepare ourselves physically—and mentally—to achieve the goal of reaching Uhuru Peak. The most difficult part of climbing Kilimanjaro is actually the need for each one climbing to be totally committed to reaching that goal, because there are many opportunities to say, “It is too hard. I am too tired. I don’t have the energy to continue.”

There are times, especially after you have been climbing step by step, pole pole [slowly], kidogo kidogo [little by little]—for six hours starting at midnight in very very cold air…and you cannot see the top yet and there is still at least an hour more of pole pole, kidogo kidogo, step by step toward that goal of reaching Uhuru Peak. And you have hours to ask yourself: “Is this really an important goal? Do I really need to keep doing this?”

But do you know why we didn’t stop, why we didn’t turn around?

Because we were not alone.

We began our trek at midnight with Mwalimu [teacher] Luzangi leading us in a short prayer asking God to bless us with a safe and successful climb. And he began by saying, “We come together from many faiths, but a prayer is a prayer.” And most of us did not what Mwalimu prayed because it was in Kiswahili, but it didn’t matter, because God was with us.

Second, before we even started climbing this mountain we had a whole crew of guides, porters, cooks, and others who were preparing our tents, food and other important—vital—items to keep us safe, to nourish us along the way, and to guide us to our goal of reaching Uhuru Peak. Without this team to support us, we would never have reached our goal.

Every morning as we began to climb ever higher on the Lemosho Route, the porters and guides would gather and sing fun and encouraging songs to motivate us to focus on our goal and not quit—pole pole, kidogo kidogo, step by step. And they kept referring to us as a family.

Even the last climb, starting at midnight, the guides were calling out to us, each climber by name: Kathy, Natalie, Madonna, Benjamin, Mark, Leslie, Christina, Nicodemus, Mwalimu, Caroline, Matthew, Baba Anna. “How are you? Kazi kizuri [good job]. Don’t sleep, keep walking.”

And they would sing those same songs we had heard every morning—now a familiar inspiration from familiar voices. They sang and called to us for seven and a half hours! Never giving up on us, never doubting that we would reach our goal together as a family—the volunteers, guides and porters.

That’s why we were crying and hugging each other the morning of Saturday, 30 January, 2016, because we not only had achieved this goal as individuals—we had achieved this goal together—as family. And we could share the joy of the moment together–as family.

Had I, Baba Anna, tried to climb Kilimanjaro alone, it would not have been the same experience. I probably would not have made it even half way. I would have missed the support crew, the motivation, the emotional strength that comes from achieving a high goal together—as family.

Dear [primary and high school] students, I challenge you to set a high goal for your life—a goal as high as Uhuru Peak. Set a goal that might be very difficult to achieve. Become a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a professor. Start a business like a hotel, or a water filter factory to create clean safe water, or an ITC company to bring internet and computer access to students, teachers, and families in Mara [region].

And when you have moments when you want to quit, when you are too tired to study, when you question whether you can ever reach that goal, when you become frustrated with kidogo kidogo, pole pole,

Know two things:

  1. God is with you. You are not alone.
  2. You have a whole family of parents, teachers, wazee [wise elders], and many others who want you to succeed, who can guide you to reach your goal, who can nourish you along your journey to reach your goal, not only with the food for your body, but also the food to nourish your soul, to encourage you to reach your Uhuru Peak.


You can see before you Christina and Nicodemus—two students from Nyegina Secondary School. They were able to climb to the top of Africa, Uhuru Peak. They have great determination, great strength of will, and they work as hard at their studies as they did to reach the top of Kilimanjaro.

Because their Uhuru Peak is not jut 5895 meters high. Their real Uhuru Peak is what they will become when they graduate from Nyegina Secondary and from university. Maybe they will be scientists or doctors, or open a business. I don’t know what they will become, but I know who they are. They are strong of will and determination, and they know that they cannot achieve their goal, they cannot achieve their Uhuru Peak, alone. They need their parents, teaches, wazee, and many other people to help them succeed.

We gather here this morning as part of a family that will support Nico and Christina, and each one of you students, as you pursue your goals. You are not alone—we are with you on your great journey.

We gather here this morning as a family, coming together from Nyegina, Etaro, and other villages, and from different cities in the US. We have worked together as a family—UMABU, Tanzania Development Support, Northern Illinois University, Nyegina Secondary, and many other partners to build a modern dormitory for girls, and to build this library and community resource center—named for Madaraka Nyerere who led me and Mama Anna and many other volunteers to the top of Kilimanjaro in 2012. The goal of that climb was to raise the funds to build the library’s main buildings. We have almost achieved this goal and we will open in June 2016.

We also gather here today to celebrate the achievement of the 12 volunteers who just climbed to Uhuru Peak. And we also gather to celebrate the other goal of this long trek—to raise money we need to start building the computer wing of the library. This money was raised by the US volunteers here with me this morning. They asked their friends and family members to donate money to help build the computer laboratories.

We are pleased to present UMABU with a cheque for $55,000 [about 120 million Tsh].

In conclusion, I hope to return to Nyegina in June with my students from NIU to begin helping teachers learn how to use the internet to help students learn better their geography, physics, and other subjects. When we work together as a family, TDS, UMABU, NIU, and each of you here today, we will certainly achieve our goal of graduating our students in Nyegina and other schools with very high exam scores, making our schools served by the Madaraka Nyerere Library the very best in Tanzania. Together, we will reach our Uhuru Peak.


Baba Anna/Dr. Kurt Thurmaier
President, Tanzania Development Support

Presidential Engagement Professor and Chair
Department of Public Administration
School of Public & Global Affairs
Northern Illinois University

Overwhelming Welcome in Nyegina! - February 4th, 2016

This excerpt is from Mark Biernacki’s journal about February 3, 2016:

We leave our Musoma hostel and approach Nyegina village on the one lane dirt road into town. Thousands of school children and villagers line the road and crowd around our vehicles. We can no longer move so we exit and walk the remaining way. We are mobbed by the people. Drums and bongos are thrumming at a steady beat. People are singing and clapping. Leis are placed around our necks. Hands are shook and backs are patted. We are being treated like returning heroes after conquering far away lands.
Schoolmates of Nicodemus’s and Christina’s, our student climbers, are in awe of what their classmates have accomplished. They receive the loudest and most heartfelt welcome. The rest of us get a lot of attention, but not like the attention they are getting. The admiration they receive will last a lifetime. They will always be remembered in their village as the “ones that climbed Kilimanjaro.” 
The scope and size of this reception is overwhelming. It is entirely unanticipated. Many of my fellow climbers are as overwhelmed and emotional as I am. I wipe away the tears in my eyes with one hand while trying to video the proceedings with the other. 
This continues for another 10 to 15 minutes. The village is genuinely thankful for our efforts in climbing Kilimanjaro and raising funds to further the educational standards  of their community. 

We have been rewarded in the way in that we have tested ourselves and passed the self-imposed exam of scaling one of the world’s highest mountains. But, more importantly, we have been rewarded  with the knowledge that we have made a difference, largely due to our donors who have so generously given. What we and our donors have done will have real and tangible meaning for the people of Nyegina and northwest Tanzania.

February 2nd: Safari through Serengeti via Old Dupai Gorge - February 2nd, 2016

The sunrise at the Ngorongoro Crater’s rim was beautiful, ending a peaceful night of camping in a nice campground looking into the crater. The sounds of lions “talking” in the night were far enough away, and the warm “pies” left as calling cards between tents in the campground confirmed that several animals had been through the campground grazing on the.grass during the night.

The first stop after leaving camp heading west was Old Dupai Gorge where Mary Leakey discovered “Lucy” or Australopithecus. The ODG curator (Jackson) was very good and his lecture set the background for a visit to the actual site of discovery (pictured).

Christina Joseph takes notes as ODG curator Jakson explains the site where Mary Leaky discovered "Lucy."

Christina Joseph takes notes as ODG curator Jakson explains the site where Mary Leaky discovered “Lucy.”

Then heading west toward Musoma and Lake Victoria, we were submerged in the annual wildebeest migration, with a 360 degree view of nothing but the gnu as far as the horizon. Further into the Serengeti, the zebra migration was smaller but equally amazing, stretching for miles and miles. Viewing a cheetah, did-dirk, and Impala were highlights, but the pair of lions at the side of the road was exciting, especially when it brushed one of our cars of TDS volunteers!

Don't reach out and touch that cat! Matt Thurmaier and Ben Peterson try to snap a shot as this big boy brushes the car and heads into the grass.

Don’t reach out and touch that cat! Matt Thurmaier and Ben Peterson try to snap a shot as this big boy brushes the car and heads into the grass.

Ngorongoro Crater Safari is first reward after successful Kili Climb! - February 2nd, 2016

The 1st of February brought us into the Ngorongoro Crater (a World Heritage Site) for a wonderful tour of this ecosystem. The high point of  seeing 4 rhinoceros had stiff competition with lions, elephants, zebra and many other animal sightings. We camped on the crater’s rim at a nice campground, and the Trek2Kili chefs outdid themselves with a delicious meal that included backed Lake Victoria tilapia and veggies. Heard lions “talking” in the night, and several animals grazed through the campground that night, leaving calling cards (pies?) between some of the tents, confirming what many of us heard outside our tent doors in the middle of the night. A relaxing reward after a strenuous week climbing Kili.

2 gnu graze in Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania) as rain shaft with rainbow approaches slowly.

2 gnu graze in Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania) as rain shaft with rainbow approaches slowly.

They’re Back! - January 31st, 2016


Everyone has returned and were greeted by singing porters and guides at the end of the trail. Lots of smiles, along with sore knees and sweaty hugs. They arrived at Mweka Gate at about 1:45PM (4:45 AM Chicago time).

Everyone reached the summit - January 30th, 2016

Our climbers have arrived at Millennium Camp where they will spend the night. They had left Barafu Hut at 12:15 AM and arrived at Uhuru Peak at about 7:45 AM. The guides serenaded the group all the way up to keep everyone awake and moving. The singing was awesome. The sunrise over Africa and the glaciers was spectacular. Everyone was and is healthy and safe during and after the climb but admittedly exhausted.

Christina kept her promise to make it to the top.

Last Rest Before Final Ascent - January 29th, 2016

As of 6 PM on Friday our climbers were at Barafu Hut (14,930 feet) which is the base camp for the final ascent. They just finished a briefing with the guides for the ascent climb. Following supper they all will rest until 11 PM. After consuming tea and snacks they will hit the trails. They will leave at midnight for a six hour climb to Stella Point and ultimately to Uhuru Peak at 5,895 meters or 19,340 feet.

Everyone is in good health and in good spirits. Madonna promises “We will do our best to make you proud.”

Happy Birthday Kurt! - January 28th, 2016

Unbelievable!! The cooks at Trek 2 Kili made Kurt a birthday cake at over 13,000 feet and the porters sang Happy Birthday as they passed around the cake. Kurt says, “An amazing 59th birthday!” Photos to follow.

Day 4 of Climbing - January 28th, 2016

Everyone is still doing well.

Today after breakfast our climbers successfully climbed the Barranco Wall. They went up 1000 feet using their hands to crawl through and over rocks. Surprise! There were 2 more steep hikes up other walls in the same 5 hours. Madonna noted “These details were not in the publicity!”

The camp overnight is at Karanga Camp where it rained during lunch and is cold and misty. The agenda in the evening will include introductions between the climbers and the porters and Happy Birthday wishes for Kurt.

Tomorrow morning our climbers will head to the ascend base camp. With utmost determination Nyegina Secondary student Christina says, “I will make it to the top.”

From those of us who are on the ground, our thoughts and prayers and good wishes are with our climbers.

Climbers Cover Nearly 8 Miles Today! - January 27th, 2016

“Everyone is generally fine” is the latest word from Kurt. Some headaches but that’s normal. “A long hard day.” They got as high as 15,000 feet then descended down to the Barranco Camp which is at 13,000 feet. They climbed for 9 hours today and covered a total of 7.8 miles in rain and sleet!

Tomorrow will be a short day – about 3 hours of hiking along the Barranco wall and celebrating Kurt’s birthday! It’s about 1000 feet of climbing using their hands and heading to the Karanga Camp. Happy Birthday Kurt!

Everyone is in a good mood, heart rates are normal and they have good oxygen supply to the blood.

Current time in Tanzania is 8:50pm.

First Contact Since Climb Began - January 27th, 2016

Text message received from Kurt on Tuesday around midday said that they had reached Camp 2 and everyone is “healthy and strong”. We’re awaiting more information. Stay tuned!

The Climb Begins - January 26th, 2016

Our climbers were packed and out the hotel door by about 8:30 AM on Monday morning with all their gear and a little apprehension. First stop was a rendezvous with the porters who loaded and strapped an abundance of equipment and supplies onto the roof of the bus. There are 3 porters to every 1 climber!! After a 2 hour ride the bus pulled into the first gate of the Kilimanjaro National Park where our climbers registered and ate lunch. Then they strapped on their gaters, took a few photos and boarded the bus again for the final 45 minute ride to the starting point. The porters gave final instructions, Father Leo blessed the group and at 2:10 PM they were on their way.

Father Leo blessed our climbers.

Father Leo blessed our climbers.

Leopard Hotel Room with a View - January 24th, 2016

Here is the morning view out the window of the room Mark Biernacki and I are sharing.  We’ll be up there soon enough…after a long walk…

Kili Summit from our Leopard Hotel window

Kili Summit from our Leopard Hotel window

Kili Volunteers Learn about Mwangaza Center Programs - January 23rd, 2016

imageTDS Kili Climb volunteers (R-L) Mark Biernacki, Natalie Hoffman, and Tricia DeBoo, listen as one of the Mwangaza Center managers, Salome, explains programming to improve teacher education. John Kavishe, also a center manager, listens (left). The Mwangaza Center in Arusha is pioneering continuing education for Tanzanian teachers. TDS and UMABU are working with Mwangaza to develop collaborations that can include the teacher resource center in the Nyegina Library and Community Resource Center. The computer lab wing that will be built with the Kili Climb donations is an essential step to providing this programming. Thank you John and Salome for taking Saturday afternoon to brief the TDS volunteers about your wonderful work.

First Night In Moshi - January 23rd, 2016

Kurt, Mark, Madonna, Kathy, Caroline, Leslie, Natalie and Tricia arrived at the Leopard Hotel in Moshi about 11 PM local time last night. Everyone slept very well and have a beautiful view of Kili from their rooms.


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We’re OFF! - January 21st, 2016

Most of the Kili Climb 2016 group is departing the US for Tanzania today. Please with them well and keep us all in your prayers and thoughts as we travel over 24 hours to get to our hotel bed in Moshi, Tanzania.

Safari Njema Team!

Countdown to Kili Climb 2016 Departures - January 19th, 2016

The countdown to the 2016 Kili Climb is fast approaching Thursday morning’s departures to Tanzania (via Amsterdam). We are enjoying our last nights in our own comfortable beds before we spend a week in tents at higher and higher altitudes.



This blog will record our adventure and report progress to family and friends–and all of the wonderful donors who are helping us exceed our goal of raising $50,000 to build the computer lab wing of the M.Nyerere Library and Community Resource Center in Nyegina, Tanzania.