Kili Climb 2016 Reflections by Baba Anna/Dr. Kurt

[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

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