HRNS Tanzania Team Reach New Heights – Literally!

Written By:Edmond Azaza
Date:7 July 2022

Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) Tanzania has been a tight-knit team from the very beginning. This may be ascribable to the great working environment and foundation that has been laid by our management over time. Besides the beautiful location and peaceful surroundings of both offices in Arusha and Mbeya, the participative leadership style used to govern the team, where managers listen to their team members and involve them in decision-making contributes to a pleasant working atmosphere. It also perfectly exemplifies the African philosophy of Ubuntu (I am, because you are.)

The team are encouraged to share more than our talents, professional expertise and job-related ideas, we also socially interact. Our management has been diligent at unifying all staff (regardless of their position) in professional and social events such as capacity and team-building training and retreats. This has enabled the team to get to know each other and create bonds – forging an unbreakable team spirit. As a result, our work and commitment to our vision of improving the livelihoods of smallholder farming families have been strengthened.

Team Building Activities and Achievements

The vibrant team spirit has not only manifested in work-related achievements but also in other more personal goals such as health and fitness. Both country office teams have jointly participated in fun athletic activities outside of the office. The genesis of which can be traced back to 2014 during our participation in the legendary Kilimanjaro Marathon (now an event the team look forward to annually). Aside from this, for the last three years, every Tuesday and/or Thursday after work, the office fitness enthusiasts have engaged in a group run (10 km) around the trails of Usa River, Arusha. Other more ambitious team members have also been enthusiastic about hiking the different hills and mountains that our beautiful country has to offer. To date, various team members have conquered the volcanic Mbeya Range (2656 M), Mt. Longido (2,637 M) and most recently, Mt. Meru (4,566 M)!

The Mt. Meru Adventure

Meru is the country’s second-highest peak, after the magnificent Kilimanjaro, which in no way diminishes its majesty. It is a dormant volcano which last erupted in 1910 and rises 4566 meters above sea level. It is said to have been higher than Kilimanjaro before collapsing due to volcanic activity. As a result, it is now a tough hike with numerous rocky summits. The difficult terrain is made of loose gravel and it can get very cold and windy. To say the mighty Mt. Meru is a challenging climb is an understatement. In some areas, one even has to use their hands to pull themselves up the steep slopes. Towards the top, chains must be used to literally climb and the altitude sickness has been known to defeat even the most physically and mentally fit. Simply put, it is not for the faint of heart.

For us, the idea to attempt Mt. Meru began a year ago after a group of staff from the Arusha office had hiked up a mountain close to the border of Tanzania and Kenya called Mt. Longido. One of our colleagues had the ‘bright’ idea to challenge the team to climb Mt. Meru next. Most laughed at the absurd idea but little did we know that it would indeed become our next adventure. A few weeks later, the group was making calls and inquiring about quotations from different mountain guides. We planned to attempt the venture about one year later which would give us enough time to train and prepare for it.

To make the trip affordable, we had to recruit other people willing to summit the steep mountain. Initially, the total number of people recruited was 15. However, as a Swahili proverb states, “muda haugandi” (time does not freeze) and as the date drew nearer, our hopes began to turn to dread. As a result, promises became excuses and about half the team dropped out. But that didn’t demoralize all the group members, some of us proceeded with the plan regardless.

Our hike was planned for four days and three nights. On the first day, we began hiking through the beautiful forests of Arusha National Park towards the first camp. We saw many different kinds of birds and black and white colobus monkeys before finally reaching the Miriakamba Hut (2514 M) where we spent our first night. We woke up early on the second day to begin a steeper ascent towards the base camp, Saddle Hut (3570 M) which is literally a saddle point between Big Meru (the peak at 4,566 M) and Little Meru (3,820 M). Soon after arriving at the base camp, we had lunch and then took a short 45-minute hike up to Little Meru so our lungs could continue to acclimatize to the high altitude. As we towered over the base camp, the views were outstandingly stunning.

After the descent back to the base camp from Little Meru, dinner was served, and we were required to rest until midnight when the hike to the summit was scheduled to begin. At this point, the crew needed headlamps and multiple layers of warm clothing as it was extremely cold during the night. The route was very steep toward the summit (Socialist Peak) and we had to pass some narrow ridges. This last hike to Socialist Peak was dreadfully difficult and undoubtedly the most challenging part of the hike. We went very slowly and needed to encourage each other to continue in high spirits. Finally, after 8 hours of steep climbing in pitch darkness, we arrived at the summit just after sunrise – victoriously!

Personal Reflections

I knew that it would be a challenge to reach the peak, but I did not expect it to be as tough as it was especially the midnight trail. I didnt anticipate that at some stage during that trail we would have to use a chain to literally climb the steep slopes. It was one of the toughest parts of my entire hike as I began to struggle with the fear of heights. However, my enthusiasm grew as I drew closer to the peak and ever since that day, my issue with heights has gone. Despite all the challenges, I never gave up and I was overjoyed when I summited as conquering this mountain has been one of my dreams since I was young.
Hashim Nkya, Transport Officer, HRNS Tanzania
At first, I was so excited to start the hike toward the summit of Mt. Meru. However, towards the end, I was so mad and asked myself Why did you choose to climb this mountain?! The reason was that I was struggling with pain in my knees. At some point, I was really losing my breath and the hope that I would make it to the top. However, when I finally saw the Tanzanian flag as I was approaching the summit of Mt. Meru, hope came back again, and I tried my utmost best to visualize myself at the top. I then started to tell myself You know what Madina, you can do it and you have to do it because you are not a failure. Eventually, I made it to the top with so much joy and happiness in my heart, despite the altitude sickness and pain. My message to whoever reads this is patience is the key to everything we do in life.
Madina Hussein, Data Coordinator, HRNS Tanzania
As the Scottish mountaineer, Nan Shephard accurately articulated: Place and a mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered, ones mind does surely undergo a strange transformation during mountain climbing. As an acrophobic (having a fear of heights), it was a very daunting journey to embark on from the beginning, however, my mantra was: The only way out is through, meaning the only way to overcome any difficulty is to face your fears and endure the pain and challenges instead of avoiding it. Finally, I believe we do not have the slightest idea of what we can achieve until we do it, SO DONT OVERTHINK IT, JUST DO IT!
Edmond Azaza, East Africa CommCare Officer, HRNS Tanzania