Carmen Miranda had barely traveled further than areas of the Bronx. But in January of 2014 she boarded an airplane for the first time in her life, bound for Nairobi, Kenya. Carmen was asked to participate in the 9th Annual Mount Kilimanjaro Climb, founded by a non-government organization based in Nairobi. Though excited she says she did not fully grasp the magnitude of what she was about to undertake.
As a child and young teen Carmen was faced with a number of challenges in her life. Like many other children, without help and support, these challenges are just too much for a child to overcome. Providing a safe, stable and caring environment is a stepping stone for the overall well-being of a child and can provide hope and present a world of possibilities as that child grows. With the guidance and support from all those working with her at CMCS, and through her own perseverance, Carmen worked to overcome the obstacles in her path. Carmen stayed in school and channeled her talents. Through a summer employment assignment she began working with Creative Arts Workshops, an organization that helps youngsters ages 4-24 through the use of visual, performing, and technology arts. Those at the workshop took notice of Carmen’s talents, her persistence and her ability to lead and ultimately nominated her to participate in the Mount Kilimanjaro Climb.
Fully on board and with a team of people behind her, we helped Carmen navigate the path; filing the necessary paperwork, securing a passport, arranging for travel visas and even taking training hikes to prepare for the climb.
So in January, after a 24 hour trip with multiples stops along the way, Carmen arrived in Nairobi. In Kenya she joined 25 others from organizations based in the US, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.
Before moving on to Kilimanjaro to start their climb they spent the first days touring the poorest areas of Nairobi and saw how their local communities too were working to help their youth in need. This was an area that Carmen was familiar with and as a group they began to see what they all had in common, the desire to reach out and help others.
With their touring complete they moved on to the challenge ahead; the climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. The ascent to the peak was a 5 day climb, with stops along the way for sleep and the need to allow for their bodies to adjust to the altitude. Much of their hiking was done in the early morning hours as the weather was more dependable at that time of day. This was quite a different experience for a young woman from the Bronx.
Carmen explained how difficult it was and how she thought about stopping at different times during the climb. She said she thought about the tragedies and trauma in her life and how she wanted more for herself. This is where she found her strength to push on. She told herself to focus on the positive. She remembers telling herself; “My feet are pointing in the direction of the mountain and that is the direction I am going to climb.” On Day 5 as they reached the last area to rest, the group sat. But Carmen did not want to stop, she knew she was close to the summit and she wanted to get to the top. She asked her guide if they could continue, which they did, and they reached the mountain peak just as the sun was rising. Carmen described this moment as simply amazing. She spoke about the strength of the reflection of light off of the glacier as the sun came up and the beautiful images that mother nature carved for her to see. She talked about how emotional a moment it was and how those last steps that took her to the top were personal and all her own.
It was a moment and an achievement she will never forget.
Carmen is now back at home in the Bronx. She is in her second year of college at BMCC where she is studying Human Services. When classes allow she is still a part of the PYA Program at CMCS. She explained the challenges that awaited when she came home to face the work she had to catch up on as a result of being away. She draws on the lessons that helped her get to the peak; stay positive and focus on what she needs to do in order for her to achieve her goals.
In looking back on her experience and the tours she took in those the poor neighborhoods in Nairobi she spoke about the power of having second chances in life and the things that you can accomplish when someone reaches out to give you that second chance. Reflecting on her trip she said “You don’t realize how good it feels to accomplish something until you put the hard work into getting it done.”
Congratulations to Carmen!