It's been a week now since I returned from Tanzania, from what was one of the most difficult/rewarding experiences of my years. This year, you helped me raise £3,189.88 for Hope For Children as part of this team - and the team overall raised this much: £100,647.41.
One hundred thousand pounds. Raised by just 31 students. I cannot stress how important this is. Student income is around 20-30% of HOPE's annual income. This is real money, going to real people, saving real lives. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Below is my video diary from the climb and the children's home visit. It's 20 minutes long and not available on mobile devices (nothing I can do about that) but it's worth watching. I recommend turning subtitles on.
I promised when I left that I wouldn't come back as a new person. I didn't buy into the whole "find yourself" bullshit that seems to leak whenever anybody goes abroad. I still don't. I think it's utter rubbish. But for me (or any of us) to come back without an altered worldview would be to have completely missed the point.
Tanzania and Kenya are two very poor countries. In the UK we live in 2014, where a (relatively poor) student can sit in an armchair with a computer more powerful than NASA in 1969, in a house full of sound systems, television sets, guitars, double beds and so on. In Tanzania, people live in 2014, where people burn their trash in the street because nobody's coming to collect it. Where you can't go ten paces without a Coca-Cola or Pepsi sign dominating a shopfront. Each shop is made of corrugated tin and pulp, and everyone sits on their doorstep watching tourist buses pass by and hoping they stop to buy something because that's their only source of income and there is nothing else to do.
People hound you, trying to get you to buy necklaces, wooden toys, straw hats and other cheap crap - or what we'd call that anyway - not because they want to, but because they're desperate. There is no work for them but sitting outside border patrol with their cheap crap hoping to make a couple dollars to get them through the day.
What changed my worldview was none of this. What changed my worldview was the realisation that there are people who live out in Tanzania, who live on pretty much nothing, have very few prospects and/or a very basic job with a very basic wage packet and they are happy. Why? Because they are not tied down to material bullshit like we are. They don't live in a world where you can grow your own complex because that cute girl/guy didn't 'like' your gratuitous selfie (hate that word, by the way). They live in a world where there are still things that are sacred. Where things actually matter.
This year, I will be building and leading my own team up Kilimanjaro. 'That's crazy!' I hear you shout. Yes it is. I said to myself on day three that I would never put my body or mind through that kind of stress again. But I'm doing it again. Why? To raise more money for a cause that I believe in. To keep ties with some of the kindest and most inspiring people I've ever met. To see what progress has been made at the Amani children's home and others like it. To conquer Africa's highest mountain, and then go back and conquer it again.
One of the kindest and most inspiring people I've ever met, who I probably won't be seeing this year is a Kilimanjaro trek guide called Salvador. Salvador (Salvo) is the reason my little group and I made it to the peak. He kept us motivated, treated our altitude sickness, sang us songs and made us laugh. He did all this, and he got us to the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.
On our three hour journey back down the mountain, when it was just me and him and miles of open mountainside, he asked me a question. "What is next on your bucket list?" I said I wanted to lead my own team. I said I wanted to do Machu Picchu. I said I wanted to teach in France. And I asked him what was on his list. He sighed. He was falling asleep. He hadn't slept before the summit climb. He'd been making sure all the rafiki (porters) had been fed. "All I want is to do well in school." Salvo's altitude training on Kilimanjaro is what he hopes is enough to be a preliminary to a medical school in South Africa next September. I was blown away. I'd come out with all this bullshit about all these silly things I want to do - for the sake of doing them - and he'd come back with something so simple and profound that I was literally speechless. All he wanted was to better himself.
He said to me, "I only hope my God gives me this chance." I hope your God gives you all the luck in the world. For dragging me up a mountain when I had lost my self-belief. For being wise beyond your years and for the sad look in your eyes. I hold a bittersweet hope that I don't see you next year, because then I can know that you've gone to pursue your dreams of being a doctor.
When we parted with our guides at the lodge in Moshi, before our flight back to the UK, Salvador gave us each a warm embrace and left me with the one message which I was then determined to take away from the experience as a whole. He thanked us, and he said this:
"I believe that if you do good things they will come back to you. Whatever you do in your life, please keep doing good things to the world."
That's why I'm going back there next year. My slice of life is a small one. So is yours. There are only so many things you will get to do in your life. Make them good things. A positive impact on the world is the only thing we should aspire to leave behind when we're gone. Some people have it worse than you, no matter what it sometimes feels like, and some of those people can inspire you from the most unlikely of places. If Salvador can keep his chin up and can aspire to be a doctor in an English-speaking country (in Tanzania the native language is Swahili, not English) and he can go out and achieve those goals - which I fully believe he can - then anything is possible.
I'm going back there to spread Salvo's message. To propagate some good in a world which is struggling to keep its head above water. To help save some more children from the streets of Tanzania and from substance, domestic and sexual abuse. Why? I don't need a reason why. I just know now that my calling is to keep doing good things to the world.
I hope the message inspires you too.