NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 24- The IAAF and Tsukuba International Academy for Sport (TIAS) joined forces with Kenyatta University, the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and the United Nations Office in Nairobi to stage a packed day of activities for some 400 children on the playing fields at Kenyatta University last week.
The children came from nine primary schools from Nairobi and further afield.
They included schools from the Nairobi slums of Mathare, Korogocho and Kibera (represented by Kibera Street Kids, run by 1987 world marathon champion Douglas Wakiihuri), as well as Kenyatta University Primary School and Ngong.
Some of the schools came from further away, including the Machakos School for the Deaf and Technical Institute for the Blind, and two schools from the Maasai Mara (Endonyiosidai and Inchorroi).
But despite the differences in their backgrounds, once the children were warmed up and ready to go, they were all part of the same event, sharing one common goal.
“An event like this is such a positive experience for the children,” said Professor Vincent Onywera of Kenyatta University.
“And it’s not just the sport that they’ll benefit from today. Food is important; some of these kids don’t see food. Maybe they’ll just have something in the morning, then that’s it. So the fact that they’ve come here and eaten something and they’re having fun, it will be a huge benefit to them.
“And the t-shirts – it will be a big thing when they go home in these new t-shirts, because some of these kids come from very poor backgrounds.”
There was a different colour t-shirt for each of the seven teams, each one representing a core Olympic value: excellence, courage, inspiration, friendship, determination, respect and equality.
The sports programme included various Kids Athletics activities covering the core elements of athletics – running, jumping and throwing – and even wheelchair participants from Machakos enjoyed testing their skills on the ‘Formula 1’ obstacle course.
Teams then took part in the Nanairo Ekiden, an adaptation of the traditional Japanese distance relay created by the Tsukuba International Academy for Sport (TIAS), for which the intention is to pass the spirit of Olympic and Paralympic legacy to the next generation.
Various Nanairo Ekidens have already taken place in the past two years, starting with Tsukuba in Japan and including Machakos in Kenya and Rio in Brazil, the latter in cooperation with IAAF.
The festivities started earlier in the day with the girls from the Machakos School for the Deaf performing a dance for the hundreds of people in attendance.
It was followed by an interactive talk from a representative of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) to teach children the importance of having clean water.
For the Endonyiosidai school in the Maasai Mara, this was not their first meeting with the IAAF.
Exactly 10 years ago, a group of international journalists had travelled to Kenya on an IAAF trip to trace the steps of the country’s running legends. The week had culminated in a ‘Day in the Life’ experience with Paul Tergat, and his group’s training run that day had concluded in the Maasai Mara.
The chance meeting between a Welsh cameraman and a young Maasai teacher sparked the start of an ongoing project, which helped transform the local school from a mud hut with a pole serving as rudimentary blackboard to a school with seven brick classrooms, equipped with solar panels to provide electricity.
“Children in our area have talent but do not have a lot of opportunities,” said Moses Ole Kipalias.
“Events like this will encourage them, and the skills we teachers have learned will help us develop their talent.”
Former marathon world record-holder Tegla Loroupe, who also had to overcome difficult circumstances and cultural barriers to excel at her sport, was a keen spectator throughout the day.
So too were some of the athletes who have been part of the athlete refugee teams at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017.
“Athletics is one of the incredible sports that allow you to bridge the gap between the elites and the masses,” said IAAF CEO Olivier Gers.
“It starts with events like these that we’re running around the world and it gets kids excited about the sport. It also helps to find the next generation of athletes, but more importantly it allows them to share the values of sport
“We’ve also helped to train the trainers. The word ‘legacy’ is overused, but we want to ensure we’ve left behind some teachings and learnings. There’ll be a legacy of athletics here in Nairobi from the World U18 Championships, but this event today is really powerful because it allows these teachers to teach others.”
No time was lost. When the IAAF visited the schools in Endonyiosidai and Inchorroi the day after the event, the teachers had already arranged a meeting with the other eight schools in their area to share the knowledge and benefits they had acquired from the Kids Athletics training.