By Korena Di Roma, reporting from South Africa
I’ve been traveling with Team World Vision following their success at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. After the race, we spent time at one of World Vision’s development areas in the Drakensburg mountains. Afterward, a group of us flew to Kenya to meet some of the children who benefited from the runners’ sponsorship efforts.
Now we’re back in Nairobi after nearly a week spent high above the Rift Valley in western Kenya. Just days after finishing Comrades, three team members, including Hannah Landecker and Andy Baldwin, ran a breezy 5K with a group of marathoners who train in Eldoret. At around 6,500 feet and just north of the Equator, Eldoret is an ideal training ground for professional runners looking to train at altitude year-round, according to Josh Cox, who trained there for seven weeks in 2001. A squat outpost with plenty of flat terrain, Eldoret is home to many of the world’s most decorated runners. Members of its native Kalenjin tribe have earned 31 Olympic and World Championship medals, 12 of them gold.
As we discovered, the mountains above the Rift Valley are best navigated in a Land Rover outfitted with safari roofs and worn out shock absorbers. Our main mission was to tour World Vision’s program areas, which took us deep into outlying rural communities. Since the organization employs local staff, we seemed to be among the only outside visitors many of the locals had seen. There were no herds of iconic game, no tour buses, and rarely a paved road—or any road at all. We hiked into the mountains and along the Muruny River in Marich Pass to view the intake source for a community water project that will provide clean water to 68,000 people by September.
In a place difficult to access and lacking tourist dollars, the water project also provides work for community members, all of whom greeted us with warmth and not a little fascination. Foreign as we were, we also traveled to the mountain village of Babarchun with Joshua Chelenga, an elite marathoner who was born in the area and is something of a local celebrity. By the looks on people’s faces, seeing Chelenga riding in a Land Rover with a bunch of mzungus was the last thing they expected to see on an ordinary Tuesday.
We were received by the people of Barbarchun with dancing, singing, and orange Fanta, and some of us sponsoring children in the community drove to meet them at their homes—beautiful groups of round, thatch-roofed mudhuts surrounded by fields of corn, coffee plants, and lemon trees. I received a bag of lemons as a gift and felt less like I was sponsoring a child than being adopted by a wonderful Kalenjin-Tugen family.