Slum youngsters of Kenya get a boost from Bermuda
Youngsters living in the second largest slum in Africa have started wearing Bermuda running T-shirts and tracksuits and it is hoped this will be just the beginning of a positive link between Kenya and the Island
One of Kenya's greatest distance runners, Douglas Wakiihuri said: “For the first time slum kids got a chance to wear T-shirts and it is a big story within the slum.”
He is a coach and mentor to the youngsters who all live in Kibera a massive slum district on the outskirts of Nairobi. The children are aged between six and 14 and have very little. One meal a day is the norm. On Saturdays and Sundays they meet as a running group to train and run for up to an hour. Afterwards they head back to the slums where they enjoy a cup of tea and bread in a schoolroom before returning to their homes.
Mr Wakiihuri, a former marathon world champion, also supports a nursery school in the slums and offers educational funding for orphans who cannot afford such things as books and uniforms.
He visited Bermuda last January to watch the International Race Weekend. Generosity and support shown to him at that time has played an important part in the subsequent setting up of the Kibera Running Club in Nairobi. And this has, in turn, allowed the slum youngsters the chance to get involved in a positive, healthy activity under his guidance.
While in Bermuda, the great marathon runner visited some schools and spoke of his hope to link the Island with youngsters in his native Kenya. Before he returned to Kenya, the Mid Atlantic Athletic Club (MAAC) supplied him with two large sacks of T-shirts and tracksuits to give to the slum children.
Subsequently, Mr Wakiihuri was able to source children's running shoes from Japan, a country with which he still has links and where he famously lived and trained during his competitive days at the top of the sport.
In a letter to Island runner Victoria Fiddick, who initially invited him here after a chance meeting at the Toronto Marathon in 2009, Mr Wakiihuri said: “Kibera kids were lucky that MAAC donated the gear and I had gotten shoes from Japan. If it were not for you, I guess they would not have been this happy.
“Kids in Kibera never get opportunities to participate in any sports activities. Your efforts to get me to visit Bermuda was a blessing for these kids, and I am sure they are feeling the love.”
Through the efforts of Mr Wakiihuri, the Kibera Running Club is now partnered with UNICEF and World Vision Kenya. UNICEF is looking at the possibility of sponsoring one of the slum youngsters to allow them to take part in a race in New York.
And it is hoped that the bond between Bermuda and the youngsters in the Kibera Running Club can also be enhanced, possibly to include link-ups with Bermuda schoolchildren and maybe bringing a few of the young athletes to compete in races on the Island.
Ms Fiddick said: “There is something mystical about the Kenyan runners because of their ability. If you run you have a soft spot for the poor kids of Kenya who do not have enough food to last them a day, but some go on to become world champions.
“I'd like to get our kids here involved, our schools involved with the kids in Kenya. We are at an initial stage of doing this. To me a child in any country is worthy of receiving help.”
Ms Fiddick's own private training groups are already working on ways to raise funds to help the youngsters of the Kibera Running Club, and she hopes that other individuals and organisations may also feel inspired to do something to help Mr Wakiihuri and his young group of runners.
l Anyone who would like to get involved, or find out how to make a donation, should contact Ms Fiddick through the Mid Atlantic Athletic Club, e-mail maac[AT]maac.bm