Gratitude – An incredible year for FindingLife

It’s been an incredible year for FindingLife and the feeling that best encapsulates our organization is gratitude. Gratitude for the unbelievable support we’ve received from teachers, students, sponsors, partners, communities that we have met abroad and of course all of you reading these updates.

As many of you know, in 2010, we produced and broadcast a 13-part real-time web series from the slopes of Mt. Everest all the way to the top of the world. Students were able to Skype with our team daily and over 20 000 students followed our FindingLife Adventure in real-time. The question became: How do we top that? No pressure right? After careful consideration we decided to create a more meaningful, student driven, interactive expedition that would surpass anything that we had achieved in the past. Our goal was to get 12 high school and 2 University of Ottawa students to the summit of Mt Kenya, build 2 classrooms in a region called Solio and unite schools across Eastern Ontario in an incredible fundraising campaign that would assist in the development of a disadvantaged community in Kenya. To top it off, pull off a real-time International Soccer tournament that would bring interactive technology to a community who had never even seen computers! Ambitious to say the least.

The campaign began with a research trip to Kenya last January where I had the privilege to work alongside my friend Gavin Bate and his incredible team at Moving Mountains Trust and Adventure Alternative to design the Garnier FindingLife Expedition to Africa. I traveled through Kenya meeting and profiling our Kenyan student team. Upon my return we held an incredible online facebook campaign, and thanks to Garnier and the University of Ottawa, (special thanks to my project partner Norm O’Reilly!) we were able to give away 8 trips to Kenya. Students in Ottawa stepped up and shared their hearts with us. We only wish we could have brought them all along.

Some of the highlights:

Hopewell Public School raised enough money to build an entire classroom on their own!
-Vincent Massey Public School and Ange Gabriel equally raised funds and united as a whole to bring a classroom to the community of Solio
-Countless other schools contributed, faculties, student bodies and parents all stepped up to support Solio
-We built 2 classrooms

-We summited Mt. Kenya

-Our lives were changed and we changed lives in the process.

Technologically speaking, one of the highlights of my career happened this year: The FindingLife Soccer tournament in Kenya.

Imagine 500 students in Ottawa connected to over 200 students in Solio who had never even seen computers! We played a simultaneous tournament, Ottawa vs Kenya and the entire match was streamed live on the web. Hundreds of students Skyped with one another on two continents.  Undoubtedly an experience that will never be forgotten. Elise Desjardins, Joe and Louis Riel High School and their volunteers, Elizabeth Graham, all of our incredible sponsors, every single person who contributed in Kenya on the ground and of course the love of my life Amanda O’Reilly from Events in Style – We were successful because of all of you

In July we were  in Peru scouting and prepping another FindingLife Adventure. Expect some major announcements filled with travel and student opportunities.

In September, we kicked off the fall season with a campaign in partnership with Climb4Lebanon called “Our Cho Oyu Challenge”. We spent September and October in Nepal/Tibet scaling the 6th highest mountain on Earth. Students were asked to challenge themselves and had an opportunity to follow along daily via blogs, webisodes and social media technology. We were once again extremely grateful (after incredible hardship and a few unexpected turn of events) to stand upon the summit of the 6th Highest Mountain on Earth. Students from Ottawa schools kept our spirits high throughout this incredible journey.

Personally, it’s been an amazing year for me. From being able to work and create alongside forward thinking students, teachers and partners with FindingLife to being in the fortunate position I am in to contribute to society and the lives of others abroad. I started blogging for the Huffingston Post, professionally I worked as a Director of Photography on national television series for FOX in addition to a TV series I was featured in called ‘La Part Du Monde’ featuring Canada’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites that finally aired on TFO. I must say though, amongst it all, giving is truly the most rewarding part. Witnessing students live their own FindingLife journeys was life changing. It redefined my path and inspired me to reach higher in my pursuits of making other people’s dreams come true. Witnessing classrooms being built, in partnership with an organization like MovingMountains, with money raised by Canadian youth (WOW!!) was remarkably eye opening in terms of the the possibility of what we are all able to achieve. Every student who participated should be incredibly proud, YOU MADE AN INCREDIBLE DIFFERENCE!

2012 is  just around the corner and I am more excited than ever about FindingLife. We’re developing multiple projects all involving travel, adventure, education and of course student opportunity. We’re working on some very exciting film projects as well that are part of our new sustainable model at FindingLife which will be announced in the new year. 2 new exciting social enterprises (that we’ve been covertly getting off the ground) will be announced in the new year that will help us meet our own goal of taking the organization to new heights where we become more sustainable and can provide more opportunities for all of you to travel, learn, experience and FIND your most meaningful LIFE. That includes all the adults out there as well!  😉

A very special thank you to the communities and people abroad in Kenya, Nepal, Tibet and Peru. We learn so much from you about the value of life, love, friendships and all that we have. We’ve taken so much in terms of experience and memories, I can only hope that we are giving equally in return.

And finally, thank you for supporting us. Without you the reader and viewer we wouldn’t have the drive to continue to do what we do. We hope that you will take advantage of some of the opportunities we are creating in the new year to become more directly involved so you too can live your own FindingLife Adventure.

Sincerest gratitude,

Elia Saikaly

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