It was some four years ago that David Pesek and Mike Kmita shared an experience that was both educational and life-changing.
The pair was among eight individuals from Colorado who traveled to Afghanistan to help build a school and a clinic in a refugee camp in Barek Aub. Upon their return, Pesek and Kmita got together to discuss future projects. How could they take what they saw and learned and use that to continue to provide help around the world?
From that meeting, The Invictus Initiative was born.
Since that time, both have developed careers while staying true to their dream. Pesek, a spacecraft designer at Lockheed Martin, and Kmita, a financial analyst for a commercial real estate company, recently completed their second humanitarian effort last month since co-founding The Invictus Initiative. The two men, joined by a team of seven individuals, traveled to Kenya to work with a clinic in the Uluthe Mungao community.
The group helped with the implementation of solar paneling and a solar charge station at the clinic, providing electricity and the ability to stay open at night.
Kmita said the premise from the beginning was about redefining what the humanitarian model looks like.
“It’s always about empowering a local community versus a bunch of westerners coming in and dropping goods and telling people how to do things,” said Kmita, a graduate of Colorado State University. “You aren’t empowering anybody if you do that.
“Not only did we provide electricity that’s going to basically help serve the community better, but we also empowered them with a means of sustaining themselves and providing for themselves.”
By installing a solar charge station at the clinic, Kenyans who pay to charge their cell phones will see that revenue put back into the clinic and thus the community. The group relies on fundraisers and donor funds to help pay for the effort. In the case of the trip to Kenya, they reached out to organizations and businesses that had those supplies and “connected them to the cause,” Kmita said.
A solar company donated two additional light bulbs, and The Invictus Initiative held an essay-writing contest at a school in the area to award the bulbs to students who were unable to study at night because of a lack of fuel for lanterns.
“Where else in the world are you going to change somebody’s life with a $20 light bulb?” Kmita asked.
After graduating from Arapahoe High School in 2005, Pesek earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Colorado School of Mines in Golden before going to work at Lockheed Martin. He was the starting quarterback for the Orediggers for three seasons, and has used that connection to involve other students and athletes from Mines in The Invictus Initiative.
Some 13 students from CSM traveled with the group to Nepal back in the summer of 2011 to help rebuild a trail in the area around Mt. Everest that aided the Khumbu region and helped connect isolated communities with resources and tourism.
Four students from Mines traveled to Kenya this summer. Pesek said the group would like to build a stronger relationship with the school and eventually get even more students overseas. The hope is to eventually attract interest from other universities around the state, and perhaps nationally as well.
Pesek will also be teaching a freshman-level course at Mines this fall that introduces students to engineering tools and project management.
“I’ve always had that idea that they would be the pathfinder for it,” Pesek said of Mines. “Just use my relationship and experience through Afghanistan and then through Nepal and Kenya to keep building that. When we look for our next trip, the first place we’re going to go to is Mines athletics and try and build that again.”
Mines senior Hannah Schuster, a graduate of D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School who competes in cross country and track and field for the Orediggers, traveled to Nepal and Kenya to help with both projects. Schuster said she had always wanted to visit Nepal to help in any way possible, and The Invictus Initiative gave her that chance.
“Being able to partner up with this group helped me to use what I had in a productive way instead of just showing up and trying to figure something out on my own,” Schuster said, “which would not have had a lasting impact like it can when you travel with a team and a group that has a plan.”
Safety of the team is always the first priority, which is why Pesek visited both regions prior to bringing the team along. That allowed him to survey both sites and establish relationships within the community. From there he and Kmita collaborate with the region to better understand what projects will truly work.
Next spring they hope to take a team to Brazil before returning to Kenya in the fall. Kmita said one of the things that Invictus was founded on is that everyone has a different resource, skill, or ability that they can bring to the group. Those interested in learning more can visit the group’s website at www.TheInvictus.org
“When you put all these heads, all these resources, all these skills together,” Kmita said, “you can create huge projects that have everlasting effects.”
Schuster said the experience helped her appreciate what she has that much more and has allowed her to try and slow things down in her own life. The communities are that much better for the work The Invictus Initiative has accomplished, and the relationships formed are just as everlasting.
“I think just by making friends with these people we make such a huge impact,” she said. “I think it’s showing that we care, showing that we’re halfway around the world but we’re still the same people.”