Reflections of a female Kenyan rock climber
By Liz Ndindi
I am a local Kenyan woman climber who loves rock climbing and all the physical, mental, and social benefits it presents. I believe every Kenyan should have the opportunity to experience rock climbing and define it for themselves. When I’m not climbing rocks, you’re likely to find me in the construction world or at home goofing around with my family.
I got into climbing back in 2015 and was immediately hooked! It didn’t take long to notice the participation gap whenever I went rock climbing. As I became increasingly aware of the underwhelming presence of other Kenyans of African descent in rock climbing, I made a conscious decision to use my rock climbing experiences as a platform to help raise awareness about rock climbing in Kenya. So, on 4th Sept '17, Climbing Life Kenya came to being.
In an interview I did with Brown Girls Climb back in Feb '18, I said that in sharing my love of climbing with others through Climbing Life Kenya I’d hoped to start a conversation that would inspire other African Kenyans to try the sport out and stir other rock climbers to take action so that they too could encourage local climbers.
Fast track to 2020, Climbing Life Kenya has grown from a personal challenge into a non-profit initiative that exists to connect Kenyans with rock climbing by increasing visibility, building awareness and creating opportunities. Creation of awareness through our social platforms, our website and our newsletter The Kenyan Climber has led to an upsurge of interest in rock climbing by Kenyan locals over the last couple of years.
And yes! We have stirred others in the rock climbing community into action as we see them venture out to “connect Kenyans with rock climbing” in a way that had not been done before.
That is what visibility does. It opens one to opportunities and possibilities around them; emboldening them to step into a space where they would have otherwise felt unwelcome.
With majority of Kenyans (83.6%) working in the informal sector, their entry into rock climbing is a foregone conclusion. Limited availability of gear and high cost of gear, instruction, travel and time, among other socioeconomic obstacles, mean that entry into rock climbing is an uphill battle. On top of that, rock climbing has remained hidden in plain sight with many locals unaware of its existence.
As a result, there’s a general presumption that local Kenyans are disinterested in rock climbing. Sure, there are people who don’t care for rock climbing, but a study carried out by in April 2020 revealed that there are Kenyans who are keen on rock climbing and are longing to be able to actively participate in it in the long-term.
How do you then find a set of circumstances that builds awareness and makes it possible for continued active participation in a welcoming environment while addressing prevailing socioeconomic limitations? You create it!
By deliberately creating opportunities with the local Kenyan climbers in mind, Climbing Life Kenya helps empower them to define their personal rock climbing experience - on their own terms.
At the Women in the Outdoors event Climbing Life Kenya hosted in March 2020, one of the topics discussed was that of intersectionality and the need to find strength in vulnerability in order to thrive.
I am not naïve to the unique challenges that come with being a local Kenyan woman founder. As Kenyan writer Rasna Warah captured in her insightful article “Erased: Get Over It Vanessa, It’s a White Man’s World” earlier this year, female African changemakers have to come to terms with “being constantly erased, ignored, ridiculed, humiliated, harassed or ghosted by those in power” while accepting that their work “will not be recognised until a white person or institution endorses them” and that they will “rarely get the credit for the work they do, even when it has global impact.”
This is why I appreciate individuals and organizations who in spite of these stereotypes have reached out to support Climbing Life Kenya, which is a local non-profit initiative led by locals, by spreading word about our efforts, sending words of encouragement, training our team or helping us develop world-class climbing programs and curricula adapted to our local needs.
I am grateful for opportunities like the Women Uprising Virtual Climbing Festival Scholarship I received from Women Uprising . Not only because I got to personally learn so much from a group of amazing coaches and trainers with years of expertise, but because I was empowered in a way that made it possible for me to practically share what I learnt with our team and volunteers. We were in turn able to incorporate the lessons learned into our programs and activities so as to ultimately share them with those we introduce to rock climbing here in Kenya.
THAT is what support does. It has a ripple effect of such value and magnitude than we could have ever perceived.
These words were first published as part of Women Uprising's Scholarship feature takeover series on their social media platforms.