Thursday, August 18, 2022
L.A. Residents Climb Africa’s Highest Mountain to Raise Funds for Somali Youth
By Kimberly Shelby, Contributing Writer
Published July 3, 2022

From left, (front) are Muna Nalayeh, Dega Nalayeh, Julie Buchwald, Neda Khaja, (back) John Hagood and Kern Wasan. (Courtesy photo)

Fundraising initiative reveals that there’s no mountain high enough to keep Somali youth from getting computers

In navigating the serpentine roads of this life, there are days of trudging through the dirt with weariness, dodging falling rock between steps, hugging curves so sharp they may cut you as you cling to them, hearing only the faint sounds of wildlife as darkness beckons.

Weather conditions may be harsh, energy may be waning, hunger may be great, the destination may be obscured and remote—and the thought may emerge: This is a mountain. I can’t possibly…

A global network of young professionals, several of whom are Los Angeles residents, are gathering in Africa next week to offer up a reminder that you can. Philanthropically.


Driven by the spirit of generosity and an opportunity to provide for Somali children, on Saturday, July 9, this group of 15 hikers, composed in part of engineers, bankers, business executives, immigration attorneys and entrepreneurs will unite from Los Angeles, Georgia, Canada, and North Carolina to confront the aforementioned challenges and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

On behalf of the foundation Give To Learn To Grow (GTLTG), which has established four schools to formally educate Somali children since 2017, the hikers are raising funds designated for the building of computer and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) labs for the nomadic youth who attend.

This will support the bridging of a global digital divide for a country with an educational deficit so significant that three of its five million children are not in school, let alone skilled in the use of computers, the primary means by which information is accessed in these times.

Students leave the Ahmed Saeed Nalayeh School after a fun day of learning. (Courtesy photo)

Financial Advisor Dega Nalayeh, one of the participants poised to scale Mount Kilimanjaro next week who was also integral to the establishment of the new schools, along with family and friends, is proud to support this under-serviced community, particularly as an immigrant from Somalia herself.

“It brings me immense joy to have the ability to give back in such a significant way. This region is where I was born, and it has been severely impacted by environmental changes and Civil war. I believe providing education to the children in Somaliland will improve the lives of generations to come,” said Nalayeh.

Ahmed Saeed Nalayeh School and Khadija Abdi Langadhe School, the two institutions slated to receive computer labs, currently serve nearly 600 students, all of who are nomads and there is a waiting list, which speaks to the demand and the need.

Nalayeh explained, “The schools are taught the Somaliland British/English curriculum, which is equivalent to the American Grade school curriculum with the exception that they are also required to be proficient in Somali (reading and writing) and Arabic.


“Additionally, the children are taught life skills such as planting and growing trees/crops, how to source water, and environmental studies. This region is heavily impacted in drought season and teaching the children these skills will make a significant impact to the children and their families.”

Children at one of GTGTL’s four schools focus intently on a lesson. (Courtesy photo)

GTLTG provides free education, lunches, stationery, and uniforms for its students. The schools accommodate students up to the 8th grade and a high school program is also in the works.

Given the foundation’s progress in the past five years, it’s easy to conceive of that expansion becoming a reality. Fundraising for the current initiative began in March with a goal of $320,000, and already the organization has received over $300,000 in donations supporting the upcoming Kilimanjaro climb.

Located in the United Republic of Tanzania, in East Africa’s Great Lakes region, Mount Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest peak in the world. This will find Nalayeh and her 14 mountaineering peers at an elevation of 19,134 feet. The overall distance they will travel on foot is 37 miles from gate to gate.

Considering that, every year, approximately 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain, and approximately 10 deaths are reported, this is an awe-inspiring mission. However, the hikers are well prepared, having trained together every weekend in different corners of the world for more than two years. Every Sunday during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, those in Los Angeles met up and ventured out on various trails throughout the city.

Somali girls share smiles in their uniforms. (Courtesy photo)

Hodan Nalayeh was an esteemed Canadian journalist who had a passion for covering positive stories in Somalia and contributing to the education of the young people there. She is the namesake of the Hodan Nalayeh School.

Julie Buchwald, a special investigator with the Office of the Inspector General and the Los Angeles Police Commission, who is also planning to climb Kilimanjaro next week, recalled, “It was how we facilitated connection during quarantine.”

The importance of connection has been underscored in the wake of the pandemic, as so many struggled with isolation and loss. For Nalayeh, whose family suffered great tragedy in 2019, this climb hits home in more ways than one. “[About] two years ago, my sister, a young journalist who was loved by people all over the world, was killed in the line of duty. This initiative is being carried out in her honor,” she related.

The younger Nalayeh sister was an esteemed Canadian journalist who had a passion for covering positive stories in Somalia and contributing to the education of the young people there. She is the namesake of the Hodan Nalayeh School.

Buchwald, an athlete, who has never hiked in Tanzania, can relate to the loss. “I’ve known tragedy as well. We’re living in a challenging chapter. In dark times in the past, what’s gotten me out of it is when I have gone outside myself to find a deeper, broader, bigger purpose,” she shared.

Somali boys don their new uniforms. (Courtesy photo)

This initiative certainly qualifies. The excursion will find the international group of hikers journeying for 7 days, sharing tents overnight. “I’ve never been camping,” Nalayeh laughed. “So, there are a lot of firsts here.”

Besides the more obvious daunting challenges, there is also the tricky matter of packing for such an epic adventure.

“We’re not able to take up more than forty pounds in weight. It’s the rainy season. There will be ice. It’s going to be cold. I’ve been taking cold showers [to prepare]. But ultimately, it’s mind over matter,” added Nalayeh.

Thrive Global has partnered with GTLTG to provide supplies. The initiative has generated support of all kinds. Buchwald shared, “I can’t believe how many people have donated, family members, friends from my school days, and even their parents.”

“When you look at the state of the union, and the focus on things that are bad, no matter what you want to do, if you are feeling frustrated and want to see change, get together with your tribe and execute. Anyone can do it. I really do believe you can live a more fulfilling and happy life helping others,” says Nalayeh. “And when you achieve you end up inspiring other people to do other things.”

To learn more, be inspired and donate, go to

All books are free to the Somali students through the Give to Grow to Learn Foundation. (Courtesy photo)

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