We are thrilled to have Holly Rilinger as part of the GMF team! Holly is a NYC based fitness expert who has her own fitness training business, Holly Rilinger Fitness. She takes a unique approach to fitness, always making sure that no one ever takes themselves too seriously – her workouts are “crazy tough, but bundled with love, encouragement and laughter”. Holly, along with Elizabeth Right, has developed a sports and fitness program for the girls at the School called Sports for Africa. The program will add two physical education sessions per week to the curriculum of each class. To help implement the program at the School, Holly, along with photographer Richard Foulser and GMF volunteer Chloe Manchester, traveled to Congo to train the locally-hired educator that will lead the classes for the girls. In addition to creating the program for the School, Holly has also worked hard to obtain donations of books, sport shoes and t-shirts for our girls.
Holly’s Thoughts on Her Visit to Congo
My trip to the Congo started out as what sounded like an interesting project. It ended up being something that changed the course of my life. When I agreed to create a PE program for GMF, I took a couple seconds, and my inside voice said, “You don’t know how to do that”, and my outside voice said, “Yes”. It’s amazing how powerful that word can be. With the help of Elizabeth Right, we created the first PE program these girls would participate in through their schooling with GMF. On numerous occasions the fear of being able to properly execute the project crept into my head. I kept telling myself (and Elizabeth kept telling me), “You have a lifetime of experience in sports and fitness. YOU CAN DO THIS!!”. I’ll never forget driving up to that school. I saw the girls playing in the field. One by one they stopped what they were doing. Some smiled and some just ran to where the car was pulling up. They stood on the steps of the school and sang to me in their own language the most beautiful welcome song, as tears rolled down my face. I knew at that moment that they would have my heart not only for that week…but forever. I realized on this trip just how much I have to give. My life’s journey has such purpose now because I know what I can give back. Growing up playing sports has given me so many opportunities and taught me so many lessons. Sports taught me how to win and lose. It taught me how to be a leader, be led and how to be part of a team. I learned that discipline, integrity and heart are important not only on the field, but in life. To be able to share this gift with 150 little girls who otherwise would never have the opportunity is a GIFT. These little girls had such light in them. By giving them what I can give, they helped my light shine brighter. I will thankfully never be the same.
Chloe’s Thoughts on Her Visit to Congo
After over a year of working closely with Noella, the different members that make up our team of exceptional volunteers and the hardworking staff at the Georges Malaika School for Girls, I was finally able to make the trip all the way to the rural village of Kalebuka.We drove down the dusty dirt road to the school and I took a tour of the classrooms before the girls had arrived. But I could feel the energy in the air already, almost as if the walls were buzzing of the sounds of an active classroom full of young minds. I was instantly impressed by the entire school staff. Nothing would be possible without them. It is an understatement to say that I have been inspired by their work ethic, their commitment and the chemistry they have with the school.
Among many things, I spent the week visiting the GMF’s wide network of supporters. It seemed as if the entire town had welcomed us into their arms. The school stands about 30 mins drive from the city center, but the entire community is part of it. Their is such a sense of local ownership, responsibility and respect. It must always be a mutual effort, to have the involvement of the local community completely changes the dynamic of a non-profit initiative like this. It becomes more than a charitable gift, but rather a group project.
It was almost as if I was seeing old friends after a long absence. I recognized the faces of the girls as their came walking through the gate skipping and holding hands, wearing their crisp new blue and white school uniforms. All the colors come together at the school in such a powerful way. The bright multi-colored chairs in the classrooms, the pictures on the walls, the deep red of the clay bricks, the bright whites of their eyes as the girls gaze intently at their teacher at the front of the room. Each one has such a passion for life, such a purpose that was searching for an outlet, and its here, at these desks and in this playground that they will discover who they truly are. To me, the most powerful lesson, above multiplication tables and the ABC’s, is finding out who you really are in the world. And the gift of being able to thrive as that person – there is no greater gift in life than that.
Noella and GMF have given me a similar opportunity. I grew up in Africa and my father spent his childhood years in a small town just a few hours away from the School. Although I live what seems a lifetime away in New York City, I never forget what the true source of my passion is. I was reconnected with a powerful opportunity to immerse myself in what I love most. I cant say thank you enough for giving me a chance to breath it all in for myself.
Holly’s Sport for Africa program is something that I have been passionate about for some time. I am deeply moved by sports and run marathons as a hobby. Running such long distances can be daunting, intimidating and painful. I often fail along the way and I often want to quit. The challenges we face in pursuing the most perfect version of ourselves is what defines us. Developing the Georges Malaika School from a single brick to the campus that stands tall above the trees was surely a challenge and we continue to face obstacles. But more than ever, we have been graced with the generosity and compassion of so many individuals across the world. Each step forward is a step in the right direction, a step towards a greater achievement that will last long after the race is over.