An Interview with Tiffany Hensley
During a recent interview with Alex Honnold, he spoke about a really great non-profit in Mexico that he had become impressed with. He said that he received the honor of naming a route and would at some point climb it. Tiffany Hensley, a brilliant and strong climber, who is a mentor at that very non-profit gave us some of her valuable time to talk about the good work they are doing there. The non-profit is Escalando Fronteras – Climbing Borders, a working out of Mexico that is working to help at-risk youth find a safer, empowering future through the art of climbing.
In Spanish, Escalando Fronteras means climbing borders.
Editor: Thanks for talking to us, Tiff. We know you’re super busy but thanks for giving us your valuable time.
Tiffany Hensley: Any value comes from the interviewer, I volunteer time free as Project WallE for inspiring community projects like Escalando Fronteras, just like Andy and Jess Wickstrom offer free services as Design Egg (who’ve designed us an amazing free ad with photos). Last year I was even working for minimum wage, behind the counter of a used gear sports in Boulder.
Editor: Incredible...so touching to see your devotion to this project. When did you initially get to know about Escalando Fronteras?
Tiffany Hensley: From limitless spirit Christopher Miller, he's an athlete on the Mad Rock Team and suggested checking out EF in Mexico. After an inspired Skype session with co-founder Rory Smith, I dove south on a quick solo mission and met the other half, co-founder Nadia Vazquez. I didn’t even have enough money to pay the gas out - I paid gas with $15, a knife and MPowerd solar lantern.
Editor: Very impressive, wow. What is it like for the young kids to live in a place like La Huasteca Park? Can you give us some perspective?
Tiffany Hensley: Actually, I wish our kids lived at the base of the mountains we bring them to like the program in Argentina. Though a lot of families do live near the canyon, they are not as marginalized as the one we work in, Lomas Modelo.
To give you some perspective, well-off can mean you are part of the 60% that have an “unprofessional" business - an illegal taco cart or tray of candies on the road. The areas we work with currently is called Lomas Modelo. Everything and everyone are undocumented by the government, and illegal; electricity, water, even houses - they don't have the titles to their homes, and some not even birth certificates, so they can't prove they exist in their own country.
Some are illiterate and are incapable of doing any documentation or finding legal work, and these people are very susceptible to exploitation, racism, and police brutality. The neighborhood isn't safe at night, and teenagers and long-term addicts sit together sniffing paint thinner on the school stoop during the day. Unfortunately, no one talks about safe sex, public education is minimal, and contraception is a social taboo.
Surprisingly, grandmothers are really doing the most to change the neighborhood, they keep the community room key safe and organize workshops. They often have sons or daughters who've become partial zombies from drug abuse, and may not even be literate themselves.
In contrast, and this really riles me up, 15 minutes away is in the richest city in Latin America, however the corruption is as blatant as the drug abuse and both as unbelievable and terrifying. This corruption impedes the growth of social programs.
I think that this perspective, taking into account the abysmal wealth gap, shows how much potential there is for change. Climbing excites even burned-out drug users, and brings people together from all different paths. I believe rock climbing can be a bridge to change.
Editor: The young kids you and your friends are helping are learning to climb for the first time in their lives.
What does it feel like to introduce them to something that will help them build not only a skill set where they will be good climbers, but also be able to become emotionally strong? Must be absolutely amazing to watch.
Tiffany Hensley: To introduce these kids to rock climbing and see to the advancement in their psychological and physical development, for myself, it’s like stepping to the edge of a cliff for the first time, dizzying and exciting and scary. You’re looking at the big picture, and this causes a paradigm shift, because you’re seeing the potential for a system change.
It’s motivating, fulfilling, and it is driving me to do everything for this program. Because of the medical studies I've read about brain development, and the rapid development I’ve seen from teaching beginners since I was 16, and my personal major behavioral change from introvert to extrovert through climbing, it's one thing for me to say climbing changes lives. It’s another when even just that one first session of climbing makes a big difference in that kid’s life, right in front of you, and in every session after that.
Then finally, imagine a run-away youth opens up that he wants to go to Harvard. My head practically exploded, and my heart swelled, and neither condition is fixable.
Editor: Living in a gang-infested area must be horrific. I saw an Epic TV piece on what it is like for them and what choices they have to make, and my goodness, it was downright scary.
These brave, young climbers are trying to survive in a notoriously dangerous area: Lomas Modelo is a gang-infested neighborhood. Indeed, life must be extremely dangerous for them, and the terrible violence in their neighborhood must affect them emotionally (after all, their families live there, too).
Is yours non-profit the only one that has been helping these kids out?
Tiffany Hensley: There is an amazing cultural group run by a man named Paco, who organizes some workshops during the day with women and young children to paint, play guitar, and make sellable goods, but this group has a very hard time reaching the teenagers. They also have a community room, but it is usually locked to prevent thievery, and the one key kept secret.
This room has books on everything from sexual orientation to history to world atlases, but they are rarely used. I found only one copy on how to protect your children from drug abuse.
Editor: How did you get into climbing and how old were you when you first started?
Tiffany Hensley: I was seven when my mom forced me to go to a birthday party, and socializing was painfully awkward until I was 18, so unfortunately for the first eleven years I avoided talking to people and really got into climbing instead. On that first day, though, a guy named Tom Davis, with a gold pirate earring and glass eye, promised I would be a professional if I went all the way around the boulder my first try. (I didn’t.) This kind of challenge setting is really crucial for self development.
(Readers: Check out these amazing images of mountains in Mexico...they’re truly spectacular.)
Editor: What does it mean to you, emotionally, to be a part of Escalando Fronteras?
You’re a powerful, talented climber, what makes you want to make a difference in the lives of children in another country that are living such risk-filled lives?
Tiffany Hensley: What makes me want to make a difference in children’s lives? Everyone wants to end suffering on a systematic scale towards the goal of living in a healthier, sustainable world, I was just on a road trip in North America with more time than most to think about it. Over 6 months and 24,000 miles, I came to a lot of conclusions. One, the world has a lot of problems, and two, it takes at least only one person to make a change, no matter who they are. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
I chose EF because, first of all, it works with a combination of serious world problems in one place: illiteracy, malnutrition, drug abuse, violence, gangs, teen pregnancy, pollution, and corruption - just to name the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Second, this program worked very close to the mountains, and very close to a very rich population with the resources to help, and this is ludicrous. In all respects, and perhaps just in my opinion, these marginalized areas they work in should not have these problems. There needs to be a voice of reason to solve this disparity, but the government is busy being corrupt. That’s why ambassadors like Alex Honnold are so key for raising awareness about these areas. Without ambassador voices, no one is looking at these marginalized areas: they are passed on the street, just a dirt road with a dead dog in the trash at the entrance.
Basic social services or multifunctional community centers would alleviate the severity of this situation in the long run providing mediation, literacy, leadership, and work opportunities. The government should build these, and also protect their parks, because they are in a way “community centers” that hold value even without personnel or volunteers. (In fact, the deserts, forests and mountains don't decay when people leave - quite the opposite.) I think governments are under-utilizing the power of nature's ability to bring peace, especially if they are slowly destroying it. Social programs are picking up the slack, and it’s a lot of work to shoulder. There
needs to be a systematic change, and it needs more Leonardo da Vincis.
Editor: What is your advice/message to the brave, young climbers in Monterrey, Mexico?
Tiffany Hensley: "Sí tu puedes, es facil." Yes you can, it's easy. As our Ambassador Lynn Hill says, it's important to remind kids to follow their passions and dreams. So many of us have had that simple support ourselves, without realizing how far it's brought us.
Editor: And what can the good people reading this interview right now, do to help them?
Tiffany Hensley: “Yes you can, it's easy.” Sign up for emails with stories and opportunities to help by checking out our Facebook page.
There are limitless ways to help, and we need it to establish our first sustainable community climbing gym in Monterrey.
Climbathon competitions are the most successful and enjoyable way to raise money for programs like EF since the participants climb very hard and bring the community together. We’ve seen the amazing people at The Circuit Gym raise $7,000 in one 3-hour competition!
We are also inviting people to help us build in group trips, working through Granite Never Sleeps from Denver, Colorado. (The first build is after Christmas, 10 days long.)
On our Move Mountains Tour up the West Coast we will raise awareness, pick up used-gear and collection bins, grab gym materials, and fundraise with a goal of $10,000.
Last of all, to help us be sustainable, we invite people to sign up for monthly donations.
Editor: This is truly a noteworthy cause and we thank you for volunteering your time, your energy, your climbing skills and your ability to change these young lives for the better, so that they may face their future with strength and courage.
Tiffany Hensley: Everyone makes a difference, I'm just particularly loud about ours. The thanks goes to our initial trip supporters Mad Rock Climbing, ClimbTech, Kavu, and Hanchor. They sent us down with gear in the first place for ProjectWallE's last van trip.
Editor: Support the courageous young climbers of Escalando Fronteras.
Anthem: “We are Escalando Fronteras/Climbing Borders. We use climbing to empower and build the skills of at-risk youth in underdeveloped areas around the world.”
Learn what the young climbers' are facing and how you can help.
Escalando Fronteras' official website
Mad Rock Climbing
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Administrator of the Facebook Page 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
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On the Cover:
Escalando Fronteras -
Climbers Making A Difference
Cover Date: July 31st, 2015