Overcoming Setbacks

Overcoming Setbacks

As all travellers know, dealing with things not going to plan and learning from mistakes is all part and parcel of an overseas trip. So it also is when you’ve got a project to build a library on the go: you know that, at some point, something will probably go balls up, and you need to deal with it accordingly.

The girls who are going out to Tanzania with me this summer are conditioned by an education system that teaches them to be risk averse and fearful of failure. But this trip is about developing their potential as leaders, and watching them thrive and mature out of their comfort zones, and as such mistakes can be seen as a positive thing, if handled correctly.

The fact is, there have been setbacks over the course of the two years building up to the expedition, so some resiliency has been instilled in the group already…

We’ve had four different leaders from Wilderness Expertise. As mentioned in previous posts, Wilderness are the company who specialise in organising overseas expeditions for young people, and the ‘leader’ they employ is the person chiefly responsible for ensuring the safety of the girls as they take the initiative in organising the trip. The importance of the relationship between this person and the girls cannot be emphasised enough.


But we lost our first leader, Sarah, before our second training weekend when she shattered her shoulder in a road accident. Then our next leader, Lucy, withdrew, sadly unable to commit to our expedition after she led our second training weekend with such aplomb. And then there was Darren, a lovely guy who I met for all of an hour or so, but who had to pull out citing personal reasons shortly afterward.

Our fourth and current leader, Richard, has been in situ for several months and – fingers crossed – will be out in Tanzania with us. Again, he’s a great guy, but the lack of consistency for the girls has not been ideal, and Wilderness have personally apologised for this atypical series of unfortunate events. But to their credit, their girls haven’t complained once (and, with one exception, neither have the parents); something which bodes well for when we’re in country.

It’s also the case that two of the original fourteen girls who signed up for the trip aren’t going. One because she moved school, the other, a girl called Leila*, because she wasn’t in a good place in her life a year or so ago…I won’t go in to the details, but she was desperate to go and had worked so very hard as part of our preparations, showing great promise as a potential asset to the team.


So it wasn’t easy to cut her out at all, but she herself realised that having a breakdown out in Tanzania wouldn’t be ideal, so we had to bite the bullet and let her go. It meant a bit of last minute scrabbling to get two new girls in, as Wilderness requires a minimum of fourteen kids to make an expedition work. Luckily, I was able to get two girls who were on standby in, and to their credit Wilderness were fantastic in being flexible in how the girls paid for the trip.

I’ve blogged before about how we managed to raise £8000 but believe me there were some fundraising mishaps enroute. For example, a plan we devised to get local businesses in the area of our school to ‘sponsor a shelf’ fell flat on its face, with not a single penny being raised.

A few of the girls had worked incredibly hard on this, and were not happy when it didn’t work out to put it mildly. But again, there’s a life lesson there – sometimes, no matter how hard you work on something, you don’t always get the rewards. We also had a frank discussion over what went wrong, and an honest analysis of the problems will help us with any fundraising drives we do for KYGN in the future. And how did we plug the fundraising shortfall? Why, by myself and a colleague of mine completing a sprint triathlon (to be blogged about in the future!).


From the Tanzania end, there have been some problems too. Long rains, delays in paperwork, misunderstandings over costing figures, new costs I’d not been previously quoted being added to the total sum…the list goes on. It’s been frustrating and lines have had to be redrawn, deadlines moved and extra little fundraisers organised. But again, it was about taking stock and adapting to what was in front of us.

So with all the setbacks we’ve overcome here, it’s hoped that the girls – and indeed us adults – can take the lessons we’ve learned from the setbacks we’ve experienced in the build-up and apply them to problems we encounter out there. But is it enough to shake the risk averse, fear of failure mind-set that these girls are more accustomed to? I guess time will tell…


  • Michelle Gumangan

    May 23, 2016 at 8:56 am Reply

    Hold up, Joe… remember the lyrics of Joan Baez “We Shall Overcome”….

    Continue to pursue what sets your soul on fire….

    • Joe

      May 23, 2016 at 6:39 pm Reply

      Thanks Michelle, and that’s certainly the plan 🙂

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