Thursday, 15 January 2015

A year of Digging Deep… Blisters, Burlesque and Boreholes - by Jessica Wood

Just a few months ago I sat at Mweka Gate looking out at the luscious rainforest of Kilimanjaro waiting for one of our student fundraising groups to reach the gate and finish their six day long challenge of conquering the highest free standing mountain in the world. I suspect I will see them all slowly walking towards me any minute now looking emotional, exhausted but ultimately relieved and excited to have finished what I am sure will have been one of the most mentally and physically challenging things they have ever undertaken.  I can’t help but feel exhilarated too whenever I see any climber reach the gate. Having conquered Kilimanjaro myself, all those emotions quickly bubble up as I laugh, cry and celebrate with our fundraisers. I watch people of all ages and nationalities skip, sing and dance their way to big group hugs in front of the Mweka gate sign to chants of ‘we made it!’ It’s clear that every climber feels as though they have just accomplished something extraordinary. Climbing one of the world’s tallest mountains is not, however, the first challenge that our fundraisers have overcome this year; to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, they were required to fundraise £2990; half of which is a donation to Dig Deep, the other half pays for their trip costs.

Our 327 student fundraisers that signed up to a Dig Deep challenge back in September 2013 spent the last year digging deep by raising thousands of pounds for the charity… and what a year it has been! The fundraising challenges are aptly named; it isn’t easy taking on a fundraising challenge whilst at university; organisation, time management and lots of determination are key to raising money alongside studying for a degree.  However, I know from personal experience that by signing up to a Dig Deep challenge they sign up to an experience of a lifetime. Students not only get the opportunity to go on an incredible trip and forge friendships and memories that will last forever but are also able to develop or gain many new skills throughout the year.

It has been an absolute pleasure to watch our students grow in confidence as they have thrown themselves into their fundraising; venturing outside their comfort zones and getting involved in things they never thought they would. Standing in the street with a bucket asking strangers for donations or selling cakes to poor students requires salesmanship, creativity and perseverance; skills that they will need in their professional careers. They push their own boundaries by throwing themselves out of planes, jumping off cranes and performing on stage in front of their peers all in the name of charity. I want our fundraisers to enjoy fundraising as much as I did when I was at university and see it as an opportunity to meet new people, get involved in extra-curricular activities and learn how to organise, advertise and sell events. We love working with students as not only do they come up with crazy, fun and original ways to fundraise but they also throw so much energy into seeing their ideas come to fruition. We have seen some fantastic events organised by our fundraisers this year: summer fayres, Santa-cyclethons, speed-dating, comedy shows, club nights, sports tournaments and a dazzling burlesque night in which one of our fundraiser’s was brave enough to perform! On top of this, maybe for the first time our fundraisers are part of a team project and over the year and during the trek they bond in a way that is incredibly touching. At the end of each year, they come to refer to each other as families and I like to think that they have all become part of the Dig Deep family too. I know that they will leave university with so much more than a qualification and that, to me, is what makes the student challenges programme so invaluable.

It is difficult for us to express to our fundraisers exactly how much of an impact the money that they have raised has in the communities that we work with in South-West Kenya. It is probably hard for them to visualise that the money raised from a pub quiz or car boot sale could pay for a teacher training session on hygiene promotion that will cause a dramatic decrease in illness and absences amongst school children. I was lucky enough to visit our projects a couple of week’s ago and it was amazing to not only see where the money from this year’s fundraisers has been spent but how many more projects the charity has been able to fund due to the challenges programme.

One of my favourite Dig Deep projects is at a wonderful girl’s school called Kagasek, which I visited two years ago. I was taken aback by the issues that the girls faced; they missed hours of school each week collecting water from a fetid pond (that they had to pay for) and missed a week of school every month when they were menstruating due to the lack of any facilities at the school. It was hard to see the girls suffering from problems that could be so easily solved with a little help, but the commitment of the staff to change their circumstances and build a better school was overwhelming and admirable. Last year Dig Deep built a rain water harvesting project at Kagasek along with a new toilet block and the transformation was incredible; enrolment went from 50 to 150 girls and absences decreased by 85%. This project cost, which is the amount that just 5 of our fundraisers raised throughout the year. The money from the challenges will be able to fund 24 more projects like the one at Kagasek which is just brilliant.

So I would like to take this opportunity to thank our student fundraisers for their hard work and commitment to Dig Deep in 2014. Your efforts have already made such a big difference to the people we work with –I hope you feel your blisters and bruised toes are a worthy sacrifice!

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