Focus: Kenya view.
One of my favourite commercials is the one showing the real-life blind Kenyan marathon runner Henry Wanyoike training against a backdrop of Kenya’s most majestic views alongside his childhood friend and training guide, Joseph Kibunja. The reason this commercial touches my heartstrings is not just because it is beautifully crafted, but it shows how partnership and self-sacrifice can help achieve success.
The story of Wanyoike and Kibunja should serve as an example to all of us, as it is the story of friendship, perseverance, and above all, humility. Before Wanyoike began his professional career in athletics, he worked with Kibunja as a cobbler in Central Province. Unfortunately, Wanyoike lost his sight in 1995 and could no longer continue working as a cobbler, so decided to venture into athletics. In 1999, he invited his friend Kibunja to be his training guide.
Kibunja had never been a runner, let alone an athlete, but he gladly accepted the challenge. Since then, Wanyoike and Kibunja have been training together. They run as a pair, with their hands joined to each others’ with a string. Kibunja’s job is to act as Wanyoike’s “eyes” – to tell him when they are approaching a bend, when to overtake, when to accelerate the pace of running etc. Like all guides, he is also a time keeper and regulator. Thanks to Kibunja, Wanyoike today holds the world marathon record for blind athletes.
Yet Kibunja has never once felt resentful that his friend gets all the accolades at races, nor does he harbour any ambitions of becoming a marathon runner himself (even though his training and experience would qualify him to run in any local or international race). Last year, he told the East African’s Odindo Ayieko that he only ran with Wanyoike out of loyalty and friendship. When he’s not training with his friend, he’s working at the Henry Wanyoike Foundation, which helps the needy in society.
Given our present circumstances, where all we hear are stories of brutality and hatred, we may find it hard to believe that Kibunja is not alone in his act of heroism. Yet in the last few weeks, I have come across numerous stories that have served to remind me that there are many among us who think of the greater good above their own personal interests.
One such story is that of William Kimosop, a warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service. At the height of the clashes in the Rift Valley, Kimosop spent several days trying to get 865 people of all ethnic groups to safety. Not trusting the authorities, he decided to hide the people in a ravine, from where he called for help on his mobile phone. Thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross, Concerned Citizens for Peace, the World Food Programme and the Rotary Club, Kimosop managed to get food, water and blankets for all the people under his care. Last I heard, he had moved out of the ravine into a safer area.
Apparently, Kimosop is not one of a kind – stories like his are being recounted and recorded by various groups, including the Coalition of Concerned Kenyan Writers, a collective that was formed shortly after the violence erupted all over the country in early January. The idea behind the collective, of which I am a member, is to present the human face of the tragedy unfolding before us and to allow writing to become a vehicle of peace and understanding in our troubled times.
Since then, dozens of Kenyan writers have produced more than one hundred pieces of what a guest editorial in the Nigerian magazine Farafina describes as “technically masterful, emotionally breathtaking work.” Some of these pieces have already been published in the local and international media; others will form part of a forthcoming anthology that is currently being compiled.
But the story that touched me the most was the one of the street children who, instead of spending money on glue or food, took the initiative to buy a “get-well-soon” flower for a hospitalised friend on Valentine’s Day. When people in Europe were giving their lovers expensive fresh-cut roses (many of which are grown in and exported from the blood-stained lakeside town of Naivasha), a group of 11-year-old street children in Nairobi decided to raise 50 shillings to buy a flower for their friend Michael, who they had carried to the Nairobi Women’s and Children’s Hospital following a brutal sexual attack. Since then, they have been visiting their badly injured and traumatised fellow street child at least three times a day.
Nation columnist Mildred Ngesa, who covered the story, describes the compassion shown by the four street children – Kevin Kariuiki, David Kuria, Andrew Mungalla and Wallace Mfoyonga – as “an enduring, undeniable lesson on living and loving.” It is a lesson we could all learn from at this turbulent point in our history.
Rasna Warah is an editor with the UN. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.