Gail Neuwirth Geisler was a member of the team of Elanco employees who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro raising money for Heifer International. Here, she shares her impressions from a remarkable visit to Tanzania.
I just returned from two weeks in Tanzania. My Elanco colleagues and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and raised over $7,000 for Heifer International, getting to know some amazing, hardworking Tanzanian porters and trip leaders in the process. We visited a children’s home in Rotia Valley and took a short safari trip into Ngorongoro Crater. We visited families who were recipients of camels, goats, cattle and chickens through their participation in projects with Heifer. We met with a 30-year veteran of Heifer Tanzania and a large Masai family in the bush. Considering our short time in the country, we saw a lot.
As Americans and Canadians, my colleagues and I are incredibly blessed with all of the resources and opportunities we have. Not because we earned them or deserve them, but simply by virtue of where we were born. It’s very easy for us to take for granted all that we have – it’s all we’ve ever known.
Most of the people we saw in Tanzania experience a much more grueling struggle for the basic necessities of life. Figuring out how to get enough water to drink or enough food to eat and how to transport that water and food is their daily travail. The dry season is long; getting enough rain can mean the difference between survival and starvation. The climate is changing, dry seasons are longer and rains come later. Jobs are scarce, unemployment is staggeringly high. Life is harsh.
I left Tanzania with mixed emotions. I was disheartened with the role of women, especially in the Masai culture. I felt very uncomfortable with what I spent on the climb itself – what a selfish use of money! I was surprised to see the steady stream of hikers and the swarms of support they require trekking up the mountain each day, and the debris the least conscientious climbers leave behind. The Ngorongoro Crater was filled with tourists in vehicle after vehicle, tearing through the dust. It seemed like an assault on an already stressed environment.
Yet the very crowds that concern me are putting food on the table for an army of porters and guides. Trekkers enable our climb leaders to send their children to good international schools and possibly to change their future.
The Heifer participant family we visited was proud of their farm and grateful for the help they had received. It was evident that that although life was still not easy, they could maintain an acceptable level of food security and the kids were all in school. The disabled matriarch of the family beamed when we met and gave us a heartfelt blessing before we left.
The Tanzanian people we met were happy and kind. I always felt safe. The group that I traveled with was amazing. We laughed a lot and bonded over ginger tea and soup. We made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro as a team, and shared tears of joy and amazement at our accomplishment. The entire trip exceeded all my expectations. It truly was a trip of a lifetime and I’m really glad I was able to go. Maybe as I share what I experienced with friends and co-workers, I can help tell the Tanzanian story. I’d like to think that I’ll never look at water or a warm shower quite the same.