A decade ago, I completed one of the greatest achievements of my life. My husband Nick and I climbed nearly 20,000ft to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was part of a personal challenge as well as a Rotary fundraiser,” said RIPN Jennifer Jones, addressing the zone institute titled The Odyssey. It took their group five days to reach the summit; “the first day in lush forest, the second in a thick brush, the third in low scrub and the fourth day was like landing on the moon… there were craters all around and no sign of life.”
Keeping her virtual audience spellbound through her gripping story, she added that climbing Kilimanjaro is not a “technical climb like climbing Everest. The battle with Kili is the altitude and for me it was a journey to the depths of positive thinking.” By the time her group arrived at the base camp, above 15,000ft, two of the team members were exhibiting mild to medium signs of altitude sickness. “It begged the question: Should we really be doing this?”
The last hour was the most difficult, requiring a lot of rock climbing. Just as the sun was peeking above the horizon we reached the top. The sky transitioned from a thick carpet of stars to an orange tapestry of colour.
The summit is attempted at midnight and takes between 6–7 hours. This time is chosen because the temperature drops to minus (-)20 degrees C, “freezing the ground so you can get better traction. Each group attempting the climb is led by a group of guides, and this is a coveted job because of the great tips they receive.”
Making her story personal, Jones added that as they set off that night with a torch on their heads, “I was torn by whether to feel exhilarated by the opportunity or terrified that something could go wrong.” Fortunately, only after reaching the ground level they’d learn that a guide from another team had died that night. And a 22-year-old English man had suffered a cardiac arrest. “While we climbed, our guides were singing Christmas songs in Swahili and the rhythm of the music created a pace to our steps. The mantra of the climb was polepole (pronounced poleypoley) in Swahili, which means ‘go slow’.”
Altitude sickness is warded off by staying well-hydrated and taking time to adjust to each level by going very slowly. She confessed that she had taken this expedition “a little too lightly and without full appreciation of the dangers involved. I knew them but was most excited by the adventure and was very eager to reach the top of the African continent.”
When it seemed to the team that “we had been climbing forever”, their guide shared that they had done only a quarter of the way to the top. “At this point our water, even though insulated, was frozen. It took everything in my being to stay focused and put one foot in front of the other, even while asking myself why was I there. I had to dig really deep inside to stay positive.”
The clubs that have good PR are the ones that are growing. PR is the best tool for our membership, both for induction and retention.
She confessed that she was ready to throw in the towel countless times. But to what end? There was no easy way out. That last hour was the most difficult and required a lot of rock climbing. “And it was just as the sun was peeking above the horizon that we reached the top. The sky transitioned from a thick carpet of stars to an orange tapestry of colour.”
Jones told the incoming governors and DGNs that she was sharing this story about climbing great heights with them because Rotary too provided the opportunity to reach various summits or leadership positions. “And when we do that, shouldn’t we be shouting about it from the top of every mountain? I urge you to tell the stories in yours clubs and districts about what helped bring Rotary to life as a global network of professional and business volunteers. Rotary is a brand that unites the world, we simply have to climb the mountain and shout just a little bit louder.”
A PR and communication specialist by profession, Jones said that the clubs that have “good PR are the ones that are growing. PR is the best tool for our membership, both for induction and retention. When we tell our stories in Rotary, like-minded people will want to join, and it helps if they know who we are and what we are doing. And a sense of pride is created in our ranks. Telling your Rotary story is a great way to keep our members engaged.”
She said there was a time “when we did service quietly; only from the past decade it has been one of our key strategies to tell our stories publicly so that likeminded people want to join us. Each and every one of us has an amazing Rotary moment. But it has to be taken to the next step and the way we have changed people’s lives has to be shared.”
There was a time when we did service quietly; only from the past decade one of our key strategies has been to tell our stories publicly so that like-minded people want to join us.
She added that a few years ago, while visiting Chicago she went to a shop looking for “a gratitude journal, which was the trend then.” One wrote here all the positive things that happened to them; “I found my book, and told my brother, who was with me, that this was going to be my gratitude journal.” When she went to the checkout counter, the clerk wrapped it up with great care, even putting a pretty ribbon on it. He told her that he had overheard her, and requested: “I want you to make me your first entry in your gratitude journal.”
Jones added that because of the Covid pandemic, both the world and Rotary had been “changed in ways nobody could have foreseen. Covid-19 has changed the way we meet, socialise and even celebrate. With vaccination beginning, and more challenging times ahead, the world needs us more than ever, so we need to remain connected.” The DGEs and DGNs had been given great leadership positions, which would give them immense opportunities.
Quoting the great feminist writer Maya Angelou, she said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” They would do well to remember these words while dealing with their district members and their families.
Jones elaborated to the district leaders how to share their personal Rotary stories. “Paint it with your words, put forth the human face, making the emotional connection. Your lives are rich with content. And you can connect with Rotarians and beyond. Imagine if we could engage our 1.2 million members as greatest storytellers. Everything we do as Rotarians affects our image and brand. Telling our stories in a compelling way affects the way our organisation is perceived. So do go out and tell your stories.”
Pictures courtesy: RIPN Jennifer Jones