MT. KILIMANJARO, Kenya - Tim Challen, an employee of the United Nations Federal Credit Union branch in Geneva, Switzerland, was shot in the knee during an armed robbery while he was on mission to Nairobi, Kenya. On his return to Geneva, he underwent painful surgery and a long rehabilitation. It gave him time to think about whether he wanted to continue his comfortable life or make a change in the world, however small.
So instead of becoming bitter, as many would have done, he decided to not only call attention to problems in East African communities, but he sought a way to improve life there through a unique fundraising plan.
Challen was one victim among thousands of the crime problem rampant in East African cities: 30% of Nairobi residents have been robbed in the last six years, and 40% of those have been injured because of violence related to the crime.
Challen's vision was "to offer hope to people who have been affected by crime, highlighting for them that crime should not dictate a life and that hardships can be overcome." The creation of the Kilimanjaro Initiative (KI) was the method Challen chose to reach his goals. KI wants to "sensitize the communities in East Africa on their safety needs and help form partnerships that will secure better urban environments. Crime threatens the stability and social climate of cities, to sustainable and economic development, the quality of life and human rights. Urban violence erodes the social capital of the poor. Insecurity affects the poor more intensely, breaks down socio-cultural bonds and prevents social mobility, thus contributing to the development of urban ghettos and stigmatized neighborhoods." The concept behind KI is to use sports, in this case climbing a world-famous mountain, to raise money and draw attention to crime and safety issues. It also takes troubled youth and gives them a challenge by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world at a height of 19,340 feet.
Challen asked for and received support from UN-Habitat, Safer Cities, the United Nations Environment Program, NGOs and local authorities in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
"This is the first effort of its kind on behalf of Safer Cities and we are proud to work with Tim and UNFCU to continue to strengthen civic responsibility within communities, engage youth and prevent crime," said Anna Tibaijuka, under secretary-general and the executive director of UN-Habitat. UN-Habitat chose the 10 young climbers that accompanied Challen.
They will also help distribute the funds raised from pledges of organizations and individuals. Donations went through the UNFCU, which has offices in three countries and services UN employees around the world.
"Most people would have reacted negatively to the kind of trauma experienced by Tim when he first visited Nairobi. Under these circumstances, it takes intellectual courage and intelligence to understand the root causes of crime and poverty, and Tim has turned this defining event in his life into an inspired leadership initiative," said Eric Falt, director of communications for UNEP and director of the UN Information Center.
Other people who participated in the climb were UNFCU staff, victims of crime and rehabilitated criminals. Escorting the group was Mirisho Sarakikya, a retired army general and diplomat. He planted the Tanzanian National flag on Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit after Tanzania won independence in 1961.
Funds generated from the climb will support grassroots projects including the renovation of a soccer field in Kibera, Nairobi a hotspot for crime; start-up small businesses run by youths with ensuing profits going towards establishing nightly neighborhood patrols, thereby deterring crime; and a water project in Kiluvya Ward Kinondoni, Dar es Salaam. Funds from those sales will help fund a security-watch group.
The climb will become an annual event. Challen may not have moved mountains, but in climbing one, he made a difference.