Mission to the rooftop of Africa

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A choral verse by students from St Kizito Litein School for the Deaf at last year’s Kenyan Music Festival finals so moved staff of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) that on June 9 this year, 30 of them scaled the summit of Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, to raise funds for the school.

Mt Kilimanjaro, is the world’s fourth tallest after mounts Everest, Aconcagua in Argentina and North America’s Mount Denali, and its tallest peak stands 5,895 metres.

Mr Onesmus Kirimi, who was among the climbers, had no idea that a decision by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) staff last year to give back to the children of St Kizito Litein School for the Deaf would see him achieve what many can only dream of.

What made it doubly satisfying was that expedition was a fundraising mission,  and that all the team members reached  the Uhuru peak, which sits on Kibo, one of the mountain’s three volcanic cones; the others are Shira and Mawenzi.

Kirimi, who loves outdoor physical activity, says Mount Kilimanjaro gave him and his colleagues with their most formidable challenge yet.

After months of preparation, including hiking up and down the Aberdares and the Ngong Hills, the CBK team and their counterparts from Bank of Tanzania descended on the northern Tanzanian town of Moshi, which serves as the base for Kilimanjaro climbers. Because the mountain ascends rapidly,  the likelihood of climbers developing altitude sickness is high.

“This was a very good opportunity for me to challenge my body and push it to the limit so that I could get to the rooftop of Africa,” said a beaming Kirimi.

Like any other outdoor excursions, the participants had to make do with the bare minimum and deal with challenges that come with tackling the forces of nature.

“Loss of appetite and lack of proper toilets, the simple luxuries of life that we take for granted – we had to deal with that,” said Kirimi, who works in CBK’s Information Management Systems (IMS) Department. At the end of a gruelling climb, there were no warm showers or home-cooked meals.

The climbers had to survive on their carefully measured food rations and each other. It was them against the mountain for five days.

“The cold at night didn’t make it any easier. Sometimes you woke up at night, struggling to breathe,” he added.

Kirimi and the rest of the crew, which included three guides and several highly experienced porters, topped Uhuru Peak after four days of navigating treacherous terrain, slicing through biting cold and dealing with altitude sickness.

“When we were told about altitude sickness during the briefings, we wondered what it was. But even after researching on it online, we still weren’t ready for it,” said Ms Sophie Ongalo.

The team felt the full force of this ailment on day three when they got to the forlorn Lava Tower, which is 4,600 metres above sea level.

“We all experienced different forms of it­ ­– some people had headaches, others experienced severe nausea, which leads to loss of appetite,” added Ms Ongalo.

The altitude sickness would have been much worse had the team scaled the summit directly. However, they began their trek clockwise around the base of the mountain to help them acclimatise to the harsh conditions. The human body starts to feel the full effects of altitude sickness above 4,000 metres. Below that is considered safe

For the team, spending five outdoors on one of the world’s world’s greatest landmarks was a memorable experience.

“Spending all those nights and sleeping in sleeping bags was special,” said Ms Ongalo, also a gym enthusiast.

Kilimanjaro’s raw power was not lost on Bank of Africa’s Managing Director, Ronald Marambii, one of the Kenyan banking heads invited for the trip.

“Those were five tough days. Tanzania is blessed to have this amazing mountain,” said Mr Marambii.

“Scaling this mountain takes every ounce of your energy. On the final day it took us 10 hours to get to the summit, thanks to the help of excellent guides and porters,” he added.

St Kizito Litein School for the Deaf in Kericho County.

As the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, it sponsored the As it marked its 50the anniversary last year, the CBK sponsored the Kenya Music Festival to enhance financial literacy and nurture talent.

It was during the event that the winning choral verse by St Kizito not only won them the first prize, but also the hearts of CBK staff, who developed a special bond with the children and decided to adopt them.

The funds raised from the expedition will improve the school’s facilities and create a conducive environment for teachers and staff.

It also showed a different side of CBK staff, who encouraged each other to ensure they reached the top.

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