How The “Leap of Faith” Camping Exercise Helped Me Overcome Anxiety

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Right in the middle of the friendly Fine Forest of Campway camping ground in Prescott, there posed a daunting task that seemed impossible for me to do, not only as a first-time camper but also as an exchange student visiting the west, (US to be precise) for the first time. I was battling with not only the demands of my new course workload but also the vast heat of anxiety, culture shock, and fear of failing in my new adventure of the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship.

Mariatu Kabba (center) and 2023-2024 ASU Cronkite Humphrey fellows.

The course of the HHH fellowship at Cronkite requires fellows to participate in field activities such as camping, and in my case as a member of the 2023/24 cohort, it was a 3-day camping event in Prescott, some 2.5 hours drive from Phoenix. Among the camping activities planned was the frightening “leap of faith” tree climbing exercise. For me, height had always been one of my greatest fears, and the notion of stepping off a platform about 70 feet up in a tree felt like a malicious joke.

As the moment arrived, my heart pounded as I witnessed Camille and ‘Sun-Shine’, two of my colleagues climb the tree with determination. The rest of the team echoed with applause and encouragement as climbers took their leaps of faith. It wasn’t a mandatory activity for fellows, but I felt like my soul was dragging me towards it, while my body was skeptical. With an unclear mindset, I reluctantly decided to participate. That was a very big decision to make!

2023-2024 Cronkite Humphrey fellows. “Sunshine” Seungshin Seo (from left), Mariatu Kabba, Rocio Baro, Camille Diola, Belén Tavares, Tamuna Chkareuli.

When it was eventually my turn, I got dressed in safety climbing gear and listened to some safety tips from the camp instructor before proceeding to the base of the tree. My heart pounded in my chest as I started climbing. My colleagues offered positive affirmations of encouragement, while the experienced instructor reassured me of complete safety. I then took a deep breath, harnessed up, and mounted on. The experience was like, for each branch I arrived at; each step I took appeared to be a small but significant victory over my anxiety.

As I stretched upwards, I could feel my legs trembling and my heart seemed to scream for me to turn back, but then I started thinking about the numerous life challenges I have overcome, I thought about the huge leap I had taken by moving to a new country and embracing a new challenge. With all of these in mind, I found a new level of determination to step up to the final height. For about a minute, time stood still. I closed my eyes, pushed aside my fears, and took that significant leap of faith. As I flew in the air, I was embraced by a new sense of liberation, The wind whispered through the tree, and I felt like I was lifting off the weight of my fears and anxiety upon each passing second.

For me, the experience wasn’t just about overcoming heights; but about overcoming myself. It was about searching the innermost part of myself, squeezing out that fear that had held me bound, taking that risk, and asking myself, what the hell is going to happen?

Mariatu climbing tree.

Within the past few days following the exercise, I have started noticing a subtle change within myself. The courage I had mastered to face my fear of heights has begun translating into other areas of my life, such as engaging more with my new environment and engaging with locals.

This exercise has become like a sudden metaphor for my life transition, quickly reminding me that I could beat any challenge with the right support and mindset. I’m grateful to the HHH team at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication for creating such an opportunity for me.

About Mariatu Kabba

Mariatu Kabba is an experienced radio trainer and advocate for women and girls’ empowerment. Over a decade, Mariatu has played a crucial role in many transformative development communication projects, including the BBC 50/50 Equality and the BBC Media Action Girls’ Education and Empowerment (EAGER) Project. Through EAGER, Mariatu trained more than 200 local journalists on gender-sensitive radio programming. Her outstanding work earned her the prestigious “Fifty Most Influential Sierra Leonean Women” Award in 2021. Mariatu is the founder and executive director of Strong Women, Strong Girls Sierra Leone. This nonprofit organization provides mentorship opportunities for underprivileged young women and girls in rural communities in Sierra Leone. She holds a BA in Mass Communications from Fourah Bay College and a Civic Leadership Certificate as a Mandela Washington Fellow from Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. As a Humphrey Fellow, Mariatu aims to enhance her understanding of women’s leadership in a global context and the role of media technology in gender transformation in the US, with the possibility of implementing similar strategies back home.

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