“Do all you can with all you have in the time you have at the place you are.” – Nkosi Johnson (February 4, 1989 – June 1, 2001)
Fifteen years ago, Michael Farley embarked on a long-held dream to walk the entire Great Rift Valley, one of the world’s most biodiverse and geographically active regions stretching 4,500 miles from Lebanon in Asia to Mozambique in Southeast Africa, featuring volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and frequent earthquakes.
His goal? To raise as much money as he could for the 1.7 million orphaned Kenyan children that had been disproportionately ravaged by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which at the time, claimed the lives of 300,000 people each year.
At 8 years old, Michael developed an innate fondness for Africa living in Los Angeles, California, and watching Tarzan. He joined the Peace Corps straight out of college and with his sights set on volunteering in Africa, he landed in Kenya on his 23rd birthday.
From that day forward, “my life changed forever,” said Michael, former Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya and ex-CEO of Elk Hill for 21 years. He immersed himself in the culture and the country, specifically the Makindu community, where he provided extensive support and helped build a sustainable irrigation system.
Fast forward several years to a return trip to Kenya, where a chance encounter, a conversation with a friend, and a dream culminated into the perfect storm of what would become Michael’s signature fundraising event for the Makindu Children’s Program (the Program).
The Program, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, supports the Makindu Children’s Centre (the Center), a day resource facility that provides food, recreational activities, emotional support, crisis intervention, and bathing and laundry facilities to over 500 orphans and vulnerable children.
Michael’s fundraising event, Proper Walk & Safari, was born out of a conversation he had with renowned adventurer Jasper Evans and an encounter with Makindu founder, paramedic, and physician’s assistant, Winnie Barron, who was volunteering in a local Makindu hospital. Her dream was to get every orphaned child fed, see them healthy, and find “guardians” who would shelter and care for the children.
In thinking about raising money for Winnie’s initiative and conversing with Jasper about his dream to walk the Rift, “Jasper asked me if I was going on a ‘Proper Walk,’” said Michael. “But I didn’t know what a ‘Proper Walk’ was. He said, ‘It’s when you walk many kilometers in a day for many days in a row without certainty to the outcome.’”
Prompted by Jasper’s concept of a Proper Walk, Michael decided on a fundraising walk in the Rift Valley, also known as the “Cradle of Humankind,” that would raise money for each trekked kilometer. He brought along his wife and friends and other associates.
“It was challenging,” he said. “Travel writer Tim Cahill once remarked, ‘If you’re not living close to the edge, you’re not getting the view. If you’re not getting out of your comfort zone, you’re not getting very much.’ Well, I’d reached the edge. In fact, I was over the edge.”
Michael’s first Proper Walk raised $43,000 for the Makindu community and Winnie’s dream.
And while he’d only planned on walking the Rift that one time, he did it again. “In thinking about Cahill’s sentiment, ‘An adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility,’ as time passed, in my own moments of tranquility, I decided to do it again. And again. And again,” said Michael.
As of August 2023, Michael has walked over 1,500 miles throughout the Rift Valley, raising over $1 million in 15 years through 15 Proper Walks.
This summer, seven AMSGers flew in from Arizona, Texas, and the DMV to join Michael in Kenya at the Makindu Children’s Centre for its 2023 Proper Walk & Safari. A first in AMSG’s history, President and CEO Jim O’Farrell has been adamant about doing good and being committed to something greater than ourselves.
“It all started with a Makindu flyer in my mailbox (actual snail mailbox)! The flyer was for a Reggae band, Mighty Joshua, who is a Makindu Board Member and was performing in my neighborhood. I was curious and looked up the organization,” said Jim.
“It seemed like it was well established and doing good work in Kenya by helping orphans of AIDS victims. And it seemed like a good way to help children in another part of the world, especially as it was around the time we were discussing focusing our [AMSG’s] philanthropic efforts on children and Veterans. This seemed like a great opportunity to do something good in the world. After attending the Mighty Joshua’s Reggae concert, I met Joshua and Michael Farley. They talked about a summer 2023 Proper Walk, and I was interested in what that could be for our people. Could we send a group of people to Africa in the summer of 2023?”
The answer to Jim’s question materialized when seven AMSGers found themselves planted in Africa for 10 days, hiking an extinct volcano, walking the rich landscapes of Kenya, immersing themselves in the Kenyan culture, and more importantly, serving the children of the Makindu Children’s Centre.
Third-year AMSG intern, Proposal Coordinator, and International Philanthropic Program Assistant Zach Taylor turned 22 years old while on the trip and walked away with a new outlook on life. “When he returned home, I wanted to take him shopping,” said Zach’s mom. “But he turned to me and said, ‘Mom, some of the kids in Makindu don’t even have shoes. I don’t need anything. I have everything. Please donate to the Makindu Children’s Program.’”
With a goal of reaching $50,000 by December 31, 2023, AMSG, along with the other Proper Walkers, have already raised over $48,000. And while at the Center, they spent time building benches, planting vegetables, painting soccer goal posts. and most importantly, bonding with the kids with the final leg of the trip culminating into the 30-mile Proper Walk across the Laikipia Plateau.
In preparing for this adventure, AMSG Proposal Manager and International Philanthropy Program Manager Jasmin Hester said, “Evidence shows that Africa is where our ancestors began. I’ve always wanted to see the land where humanity started. Secondly, this is the launch service project for AMSG’s International Philanthropic Program. It is important to me that I give, serve, and learn on this monumental trip.”
And learn they did. For AMSG Analyst Kevin (Chevy) Ford, visiting Kenya solidified years of studying African history and culture. Further, while volunteering at the Center, Chevy witnessed “a spirit of perseverance amidst adversity that I have never seen before,” he said. “The Center is more than a mere refuge, but a fortress of love, a logistical marvel, and a sanctuary for the most helpless, providing its children with a powerful foundation to build their lives upon.”
AMSG Team Lead and Senior Finance Manager Lisa Perry learned to view life and circumstances from a new perspective. “My view of the world has changed. I must admit that I embarked on this adventure with a bit of a ‘Western savior complex,’” said Lisa. “But I saw that happiness and wealth are truly a matter of perspective. The children were naturally smart, athletic, rhythmic, and … beautiful. Each child I interacted with was rich in culture and community in a way that my own African American children are bankrupt. I experienced a mid-life growth spurt and am eternally grateful for the opportunity to support the Makindu children and community.”
And while the Proper Walk leg of the journey is known to be both physically and mentally challenging, the experience is awe-inspiring. Stretching from the slopes of Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley, the plateau’s vast land is known for its wildlife and rolling hills. At night, the stars and galaxy expose themselves across the inky black night sky, and thoughts about life, our purpose, and place in the world boom out loud.
“When we’re out there, you see the northern and southern exposure of the Milky Way. It’s when we’re out there that I really think about this big Universe and how insignificant we all are,” said Michael. “We’re just a blip in history. We really are a flash in the space of time. But I’ve also come to realize and know that, in the short period of time we have here, we can have a significantly positive impact on the life of another person.”
Individuals who come from around the world to donate their resources and volunteer their time undergo a metamorphosis. “This experience has humbled me and reminded me of the resilience of the human spirit,” said Acquisition Analyst, Imani Shipp. “It was a transformative journey of self-discovery, empathy, and appreciation for the beauty and complexities of life. It has opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of our world and the power we each hold to make a positive impact.”
And for the Makindu children, the Center undoubtedly impacts their lives, along with the larger Kenyan community. Former orphans who were cared for by the Center’s elders return as adults to support and mentor the next generation of children. What’s more, a former orphan who Michael met as a young boy was living on the streets and received care at the Center and shelter from a guardian is now an attorney with the Kenyan high court. “We just have to let that sink in. Because it’s amazing what children can do when adults provide a foundation and wrap them in genuine love, care, and concern,” said Michael.
To do this work is to live on the edge. And living on the edge requires us to shift out of our comfort zones. That may mean flying to a new country and serving a community that is vastly different from our own or trekking through rugged terrain to raise money for individuals we’ve never met. Regardless of the chosen work, it’s in that uncomfortable space that we learn more about ourselves and what we’re capable of, and develop character and new insights that help us better navigate the world and evolve into a greater version of ourselves.
Written by: Juania Owens, Investment Analyst Lead