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Climbing Dreams: Nurturing a Revolution in Malawi's Vertical Landscape

February 19, 2024 67 view(s)

Climbing Dreams: Nurturing a Revolution in Malawi's Vertical Landscape

Climbing Dreams: Nurturing a Revolution in Malawi's Vertical Landscape

Cypher Climbing supports The Global Climbing Initiative and Climb Malawi through a training for rising climbing leaders

Author photos by Kiran Kallur


In August 2023, the young climbing community of Malawi in southeast Africa took part in educational climbing workshops through the Global Climbing Initiative’s Climbing Leadership Fund. Mentored by a team of instructors from the US and Kenya, their goal was to develop skills and knowledge to lead their community, grow as climbers, and further develop the sport for all Malawians rather than being reliant on visiting foreign climbers. 

Cypher Climbing supported this project knowing The Global Climbing Initiative would not only help build route development educational tools, but foster growth of Malawi’s climbing community in new ways. Climbing is a unique sport that provides profound individual experiences, but also group experiences that bond people together as lifelong friends. We are proud to have been a part of this project and are looking forward to seeing what is to come in the Malawian climbing community! Read on to learn from the perspectives of Malawian climbers on the future of climbing in the Warm Heart of Africa.  


Imagine sun-kissed mountains rising above the African plains, or the shining waters of Lake Malawi. Settled beneath the mountains, a vibrant community of climbers gather, their hands building stories with each grip on the rock face. This is the landscape of climbing in Malawi, where the sport is still young and bursting with potential and every ascent feels like a victory. While foreign climbers have established adventurous routes over the preceding decades, as far as most Malawians are concerned, climbing was introduced only a few years ago. Despite this, the bond we feel is like a family. It's heartening for those of us who love this sport to witness its gradual recognition among our fellow Malawians, and I believe it will soon be known throughout the entire country.

However, this journey is not just about scaling cliffs: it's about shaping the future of a sport, a community, and a generation. It's about etching our dreams onto the rock face and showing the world that in the heart of Malawi, a climbing revolution is taking root, nurtured by passion, powered by dreams, and fueled by a community that believes in the transformative power of reaching for the sky.

Moses Kalirani: Climbing to me means everything, my whole life revolves around it from meeting new people and going to new places and learning so many different things and connecting with people.

Photo by Clive Luwanja.

For Emmanuel Jekete, one of the earliest Malawian climbers, his climbing journey began not on majestic cliffs, but in a backyard wall in Lilongwe, the capital city. Back then, the community consisted of just a handful of enthusiastic souls and the routes were daunting challenges. Later, when the small backyard wall was relocated to a dedicated space, the other authors joined, and we discovered a thrill that transcended mere muscle and adrenaline in that makeshift gym. Climbing became a puzzle, a dance with gravity, a test not just of the body but of the mind and spirit. As whispers of climbing spread beyond the city, we stumbled upon hidden crags, their granite faces whispering tales of ancient winds. Each ascent was a discovery, a new line curved in the rock, a shared victory echoing across the valley. We were pioneers, navigating uncharted territory, building not just routes, but a community.

But as much as building and growing this new sport felt like an exciting adventure, our barriers to climb are often more difficult to overcome than scaling the cliffs themselves. Economic opportunities are very limited in Malawi, and many of us are students coming from families struggling to pay school fees. Climb Malawi’s donation-based model leaves little to no money to spend on transportation, and for many it can be a major challenge to simply get to the climbing gym, let alone one of our beautiful crags. As new entrants to the sport, our enthusiasm dwarfs our technical knowledge, which has historically left us reliant on foreign climbers to bolt new routes and expand our skills.

Clive Luwanja: “I envision my friends not only participating in competitions both local and international but also I aspire to document their journey as one of Malawi's first climbing photographers.”

Photo by Clive Luwanja.

This is where the Global Climbing Initiative came in. They brought Genevive Walker (USA), Mario Stanley (USA), Liz Ndindi (Kenya), and Scott Clark (USA) to Malawi for three weeks offering training covering various aspects including anchors, advanced climbing techniques, route setting, bolting, and more. Throughout the clinics we explored the possibilities of climbing as a major sport in Malawi, and the instructors took time to peer into each one of us, helping us determine our goals for the sport and articulate what it means to us. We learned how to set routes, train climbers, and foster a culture of inclusivity. We saw how climbing, beyond the physical challenge, could be a bridge, connecting diverse communities and fostering a spirit of unity that resonated deeper than any shared language. The skills and knowledge shared, the solidarity forged, have become the tools to build our dream.

Our dreams for climbing in Malawi are diverse and ambitious. For Moses Kalirani and Shalom Maholo, they dream to make climbing a nationwide sport so that everyone in Malawi has the chance to share in the joy and excitement climbing has given us. Some of our fellow Malawians might find what they have been lacking in terms of adventure, while some may discover opportunities for competition and tourism. Shalom, one of the strongest female climbers in Malawi, specifically hopes to see many women and girls crushing in the sport. As she puts it, “seeing a lady excel in what has been a male dominant field offers a distinct type of encouragement for other women, and establishes equality in the community.” She dreams of seeing Malawian climbers visiting other countries and having new experiences, gaining a different perspective, and learning new skills. 

Similar to Shalom, Clive Luwanja sees a future where his friends develop into top-notch climbers, establishing the best climbing routes in Malawi and exploring new climbing environments and communities abroad. He envisions them participating in competitions locally and internationally, and aspires to document their journeys as one of Malawi's first climbing photographers. Like many of the young climbing leaders, Clive hopes to combine his skills and knowledge to contribute meaningfully and help build Malawi's climbing community.

Our dreams stretch far beyond these familiar crags such as Nkhoma and Nathenje. We envision a Malawi where climbing isn't just a niche sport, but a beacon for youth, a path to self-discovery and empowerment. We dream of climbing walls rising in villages just like our humble gym in Lilongwe, of children scaling new heights despite their fears and reaching for their potential. This is why the GCI training program is so important. It is like a ray of sunlight illuminating the path ahead, giving us the tools we needed to build our own dreams. From Climb Malawi and our community will come the rebirth of sport climbing in our country, led by Malawians.

Shalom Maholo: “Climbing means LIFE. I have learned so much from climbing that I also use outside of climbing. Climbing empowers me and allows me to see places I did not know about and never thought I would. CLIMBING IS IT FOR ME.”

Photo by Clive Luwanja.

For us, climbing is not just a sport but something that has come to affect our whole lives. Climbing has helped us to know ourselves and our country deeply. Since we started climbing, we’ve been exposed to so many people and cultures that we had never encountered, and it has brought us closer to many people. Through climbing, we’ve met individuals from diverse races and lifestyles, fostering deep friendships rooted in our shared passion. It's not just about climbing; it's about learning from others, understanding their cultures, communities, and environments. Climbing has breathed new life into the nearly forgotten dreams and ambitions we had growing up.

Most importantly, for us, climbing is more than a sport: it's a family. It's the hard-skinned hands reaching out to help, the shared laughter echoing across the cliffs, the quiet understanding that binds us together. It's the confidence I gain with every hold, the resilience that grows with each fall, the unwavering support that carries me through life's challenges.

Emmanuel Jekete: Climbing has become my therapy, my sanctuary, my teacher. It has shown me the power of community, the strength within myself, and the potential that lies untapped in the youth of Malawi.

Photo by Clive Luwanja.

Climbing has become our therapy, our sanctuary, our teacher. It has shown us the power of community, the strength within ourselves, and the potential that lies untapped in the youth of Malawi. This is why the GCI training wasn't just a training clinic; it was a torch passed, a responsibility embraced. We are the future of climbing in Malawi, and we carry this flame with pride, ready to illuminate the path for others. This is just the beginning. The mountains of Malawi are waiting, and we, the future of climbing, are ready to climb.


This project was made possible by many small donations from people just like you. By donating to the GCI Climbing Leadership Fund, you can help us continue to support Climb Malawi and other communities around the world. Visit globalclimbing.org/climbing-leadership-fund to support.

 

Authors:

Emmanuel Jekete, Shalom Maholo, Moses Kalirani, & Clive Luwanja

 

Photos:

Clive Luwanja

 

Editor:

Tyler Algeo

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