Water Warrior: Bingham Jamison
To My Waterboys Family,
By late Fall last year, already deep into my training regimen and fundraising efforts, I was eagerly anticipating my upcoming journey to Tanzania as a member of the Conquering Kili Class of 2019/20. Humbled (and excited!) to be part of such an extraordinary group of men and women, united in pursuit of providing life-sustaining drinking water to communities in Africa, little did I grasp at the time how profoundly moving this experience would be, indelibly reinforcing my belief that life’s most consequential, meaningful moments are born while embracing a cause greater than ourselves.
Being part of Waterboys has been a life-changing initiative for me on so many levels: I’ve discovered a renewed sense of purpose in paying it forward as a compassionate global citizen; I’ve developed the type of intense bonds with my teammates (professional athletes, clean water advocates, and fellow combat veterans) that can only be forged through shared hardships and victories; and I’ve been inspired by the radiant joy of the Tanzanian people, who despite having very little in the way of resources or simple comforts, have learned to live above their circumstances.
My Conquering Kili experience consisted of three distinct phases: pre-trip fundraising here in the U.S.; on-the-ground civic development with local Tanzanian communities; and finally, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa (with an elevation of 19,341 feet).
Fundraising: I’m proud to report that our Waterboys team raised over $200,000, which will go toward drilling deep borehole wells to provide much-needed clean water to Tanzanian communities. We continue to be amazed by the depth and breadth of Waterboys donors, whose generous gifts are literally transforming the lives of gracious human beings on the other side of the planet.
Tanzanian Community Development: We were fortunate to visit two separate communities, each living in stark contrast on the clean water spectrum:
We chartered a puddle-hopper airplane to reach the first rural location, Sanya Station Village, where we saw firsthand the transformative power of clean water. In 2018, Waterboys funded the drilling of a clean water well here, which has since resulted in a thriving community – of particular note, thanks to the new well, their elementary school was subsequently reopened, where kids (boys and girls) attend regularly (without the burden of frequent dysentery-related absences that plagued the children previously). As we drove into their village, we were greeted with singing and dancing by hundreds of schoolkids and adult members of the community alike – a culturally poignant “thank you” to Waterboys for bringing clean water into their community. What an incredibly beautiful celebration!
The following day we drove approximately three hours to visit the Elerai Primary School, which was situated in a much more impoverished area. With more than 1,000 students, the place was buzzing with activity when we arrived. And while we were greeted once again with smiling and cheering children, all of whom seemed to be in good spirits and welcomed us with repeated high-fives, we soon learned that dysentery-related illnesses were afflicting the student body. The culprit? No access to clean water. Their only water source was a cement trough, filthy to the naked eye – in fact, the students drank the same dirty water they used to wash their hands. As a father (hell, as a human being!), I was saddened by seeing kids living in such conditions; however, I’m resolute with the knowledge that these children’s future will soon change for the better! Upon saying goodbye to the wonderful students and leaving their compound, our Waterboys team unanimously voted for one of the wells financed through our fundraising efforts to be drilled at Elerai.
Conquering Kili: We departed base camp at midnight on Feb 29th (Leap Day!) to make our summit bid, walking single-file as we slowly traversed up the steep incline, ever mindful of the loose footing, the frigid temps, the thin air, and the darkness. But we pressed on. And as dawn began to break, with the imposing mountain peak now in our sights, we enjoyed a sunrise that was nothing short of spectacular. We summited Mt Kilimanjaro at 7:33am, and reveled in what we had accomplished. It’s difficult to put into words the feelings and emotions I encountered on the mountain, but there was certainly an ever-present glimpse of the Almighty, of a creation so majestic and humbling, and of an energy so powerful to have beckoned us upward. As a team. On a mission. Together.
We summited alongside another small group of climbers, whom we had randomly met during our layover in the Amsterdam airport roughly 10 days prior en route to Africa. Although we took different routes up the mountain, I believe it was more than just coincidental that we happened to summit at the same time. Here’s why: they were all Gold Star Families – mothers, fathers, wives, etc. of U.S. service members killed in combat. Their de-facto leader was a petite and athletic woman in her 70s – spunky, kind, and energetic. I wept as I watched her cry out from the top of Africa to her late son – an Army helicopter pilot who was killed in Afghanistan in 2016 – calling his name over and over. I embraced this woman, this grieving mother, wholly inspired by the manner in which she was honoring her son’s legacy. Before departing the summit, I found a nice spot away from the crowd where I was able to take some time to myself, sitting quietly, just being present in the moment. And listening. With my eyes closed, above the sound of the wind, I felt the warmth of a still small voice. I find comfort knowing that perhaps the Gold Star Mother welcomed a similar sense of peace, healing, and awareness.
During our five-day trek up the mountain, it became clear to me that “Kili” was more than just a mountain to be climbed, more than just an exciting adventure to undertake – it was far more meaningful than that. The journey affirmed my belief in the power of purpose, the strength of the pack, and the freedom of a new beginning. I watched in awe as two of my teammates, each of whom lost a leg in Iraq, led us up the mountain – not only did they refuse to quit, but their infectious fortitude motivated the rest of us along the way. Their courage, selflessness, and leadership were on display in ways I’ve seldom witnessed – what a testament to the indomitable human spirit, the embodiment of Marcus Aurelius’ timeless edict: “Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.”
We all have our own mountains in life (tangible or otherwise), and the choice is ours as to how we approach these obstacles. Like the Tanzanian people who live above their circumstances, like my amputee teammates who overcame devastating physical wounds and learned to push themselves far outside of their comfort zones while being of service to others, and like the grieving mother who led her fellow Gold Star Families up a seemingly impossible climb, these role models are living examples of that which is possible when we convert our “test” into our “testimony.”
I’ll end with my favorite Emerson quote: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Regardless of whether we’re climbing a mountain, mourning our lost friends from war, battling an illness, or searching for a renewed sense of purpose during Covid quarantine, our strength is magnified when we lend a helping hand to others. We are, and will always be, stronger together.
Keep climbing, my friends!
Bingham Jamison, Conquering Kili Class of 2020