A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and in true fashion, the extraordinary journey of nine students from the University of Nairobi and Mount Kenya University, aiming to hoist the O3 Plus flag at Point Lenana began and ended in resounding success and triumph. The nine students took the challenge of high altitudes to create awareness on the importance of good health and well-being of young people. The students successfully underwent a rigorous program that ensured they were well acclimatized and trained for the daunting task.
The students and their chaperons satisfactorily mastered the identification and use of appropriate hiking gears, pace, hydration and acclimatization to high altitudes, all essential for a successful ascent to Point Lenana in Mt. Kenya, the third highest peak in Africa. The students scaled six preparatory hills and mountains namely Mt. Kilimambogo, Kijabe Hills, Mt, Longonot, Elephant Hills, Mackinders Quest and Oldoinyo Le Satima to build their resilience.
The team was flagged off on 13th July 2022, at a high-level event hosted by Prof Stephen Kiama, University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor.
The students started their ascent to Point Lenna on Thursday July 14th, 2022 from Chogoria Gate towards Lake Elis camp, at an elevation of 3455M above sea level. Determined to create awareness of the health and well-being of young people in the country, the students took every step with pride. With no connectivity, they were cut off Kenya and the world at large. Their mission was only one; Point Lenana. The students covered the 9KM to Lake Elis camp with ease due to the resilience built in the preparatory stage. The camp was cold and sleeping in tents for the first time was not easy for the students.
The second day started with early breakfast in makeshift tents. There were no showers. They had to contend with wet wipes. Life in the mountains was teaching them how to survive.
The climb towards the base camp Mintos, at 4,200M brought in some new challenges. High altitudes with low oxygen levels, rugged terrain and severe cold took a toll on the students. Walking in a file, they encouraged one another. The expedition was no longer personal but communal with the common goal of hoisting the O3 Plus flag on Point Lenana.
Camp Mintos brought the students closer to their dream. It was maddeningly cold, but the food and hot beverages provided were consolation. Towering above, Point Batian and Lenana standing next to each other were visible. UNESCO staff and Mount Kenya representative held talks with the students to assess if they were mentally and physically ready for the last stretch. One could sense the anxiety. And this is understandable since mountaineering is quite could have negative implications on their health. They prayed for protection and strength.
The ascent to Point Lenana on the third day was not easy. They were up by 2:00 am for breakfast - biscuits, popcorn and black tea/coffee to fuel their bodies. The climb commenced at 4:00 am armed with headlamps to light the dark trail. Some snow had fallen from the base camp, an awesome experience for the students. The amazing reflection of the snow-capped mountain was a great motivation during the dark walk. They took photos and recorded messages to capture the momentous task. The increased elevation with thinned oxygen levels could be felt. Headaches and stomach related issues were reported. But the students remained focused. Point Lenana, was clearly at hand, attainable! The last 50 meters to Point Lenana was quite grueling. Walking on fours as they gasped for air. And finally, they made it to Point Lenana, as a testimony to their unlimited potential to inspiring students across Kenya.
Finally, the O3 Plus flag was hoisted at Point Lenana, alongside the national flag. They danced as Peak Batian looked on. It was unbelievable. They hugged and momentarily forgot the torturous journey. There was a combined sense of accomplishment, as the team felt bonded by the successful mission. They proclaimed the health and well-being of young people matters, as they stood on the grounds where the Kenya 2010 Constitution is deposited.
As they descended, their faces donned with pride. What seemed unachievable had been conquered. And so were the mountains in their lives, while doing so they inspired thousands of students to also achieve their dreams.
At the Mintos base camp, congratulatory messages rent the air. They received well-deserved medals and certificates. They had put their lives on the line for the sake of the health of young people in Kenya. For their incredible support for the O3 Plus campaign on health and well-being for young people, UNESCO would like to congratulate these brave students. They are heroes!