•UNHCR stats also reveal that there was a time when one per cent of the world’s population were compelled to run for their lives owing to effects of war.
•With her stellar reputation in athletics over the years and priceless humanitarian efforts, Loroupe is a true ambassador to the country, the sport, over and above, mankind.
Approximately 79.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict or persecution.
Among them are about 26 million refugees— half of whom are under the age of 18.
According to United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), there are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement.
UNHCR statistics also reveal that there was a time when one per cent of the world’s population were compelled to run for their lives owing to effects of war.
However, Kenyan athletics legend, Tegla Loroupe is working hard to demystify the perception of hopelessness. That Loroupe has won accolades for restoring hopes of devastated refugees through her Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation goes without saying.
With her stellar reputation in athletics over the years and priceless humanitarian efforts, Loroupe is a true ambassador to the country, the sport, over and above, mankind.
Loroupe’s inspiring story with refugees started in 2014 when she extended her noble peace initiatives to refugee camps in Kenya where she stumbled across tremendous interest in athletics among refugee communities.
The following year, she petitioned the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to offer refugees a chance to advance athletics careers through Olympics. She then established an athletics training camp for refugees on the outskirts of Nairobi, ostensibly to help ascertain Olympic personalities that would unite the people from countries that are at war.
History was made in 2016 when the first ever Refugee Olympic Team was constituted. The team comprised of 10 refugees from Syria, Congo, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Five out of the 10 refugees came from Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. The five athletes were selected from 20 others from the Tegla Loroupe training facility.
The participation of refugees in the Olympics was a symbol of hope to millions displaced persons globally. In the Tokyo 2020 Olympics pushed to 2021, Loroupe will again be present as the refugee team’s chef de mission.
“Seeing refugees suffer in camps is not something anyone would like to see. It’s not what refugees would want to go through. One of our key objective is to see them to go back home and become ambassadors of peace,” says Loroupe.
So what drives Loroupe?
“I think that’s an individual initiative and the need to see communities co-exist. You have to think where you come from and try to think over the contribution of the community in making you who you are today. But again, when you run this field, you have to have supporters. The concept doesn’t just germinate as plants do. Some people will help you along the way, others will not. The essence for me has been to set the example so that other people who have a heart to help can come through. It’s something akin to doing journalism. As much as you earn a living from writing stories, you also want to give back something to other people who need your help. Then of course you also become a voice for those who need your support. That’s what we stand for.”
However, it’s no secret that Loroupe’s refugees’ initiative have nonetheless suffered a major blow over the past few months due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. This has since culminated into closing down the training camp in Ngong.
“Now that we have Covid-19 issues, all our athletes no longer train in Ngong. We disbanded camp in March just like all other athletes. So they are back at Kakuma but we continue to monitor their progress from time to time and give them support and a program for training. Our main support comes from International Olympic Committee (IOC), UNHCR and a footwear company based in Switzerland.
Recently, you heard about our government support towards athletes to get food and money to help them during these difficult times. Since the athletes are with their families, we are talking with the Ministry of Sports and we hope to get support like the other Kenyan athletes.”
“I started this project in 2014 and when the President of IOC Thomas Bach said he wanted to support the refugees to run the first Olympic Games in Rio 2016.
“This was a dream come true for me because then I was training with those athletes at my village in Kapenguria and because I didn’t know where to take them, I had to seek assistance. Thankfully, the shoe company in Switzerland, IOC and UNHCR came through and this is how we put the who concept together. The Government of Kenya is also one of our major partners as they offer protection to the athletes as well as allow them train outside their refugee camps whenever they are with us in Ngong. So yes, they have indeed been training with our local athletes.”
So who are these refugee athletes?
“These are proper sports people and some of them Olympians. In fact, after the Rio Olympics, most of them understand what it means to do sports. “Some of them had never run and the closet they came to sports was to play football at low levels.
“Some are going to school and we took the advantage of sports to offer them quality education. In our camp, we always impart some valuable life experiences by giving them extra skills.
“We also have a program for agriculture and encourage people to come and teach them farming under what we call value added programme away from sports.
“ So the truth is that, we don’t just train. We also empower them with a mentorship programme, where we provide skills to enable them flourish in respective fields. We always ask people to come and teach them. We also have one of the athletes who works with us through the foundation. We have given him education and he has already cleared university. We expect such athletes to go back to their countries and be part of nation building,” she said.
Tegla admits that her success story is not devoid of challenges given that some of these refugees also need finances . “At Kakuma, some of them are bread winners while some are orphans who are supposed to take care of their siblings hence the reason why we need more support,” she noted.
“When you see these refugee train with our athletes, you feel the need to support them. We learn from each other. These are people who came here through war and here they are struggling to be like Kenyan athletes.”
Lorupe and her team are trying their level best to bring out the best from the refugees. “So we run our programmes in Dadaab and mostly Kakuma. After the Rio programme, most of them understand that they are just as capable as those who went to the 2016 olympics and that it’s very much possible for refugees to make a difference in the society.”
He said: “Our main base at Olooluwa in Ngong but occasionally, we take them to Iten like we did last February so that they can train with some of the best Kenyan athletes.”
Lorupe is livid with Kenyan athletes who conspire with their handlers to use banned substances. She advocates for a clean sport in order to protect the good name of the country and the athletes.
“During our time, you would hardly hear anything like doping. It was not in our vocabulary in the first place. Even as you see people like Catherine Ndereba, Joyce Chepchumba, myself and Esther Barmasai earning respect for who we are, it’s because we ran our races at a very high level and clean.”
She added: “We were very humble and disciplined. We used to heed advice from our seniors unlike the kids of today who seem spoilt by the success. They run, make lots of money, then many end up in drugs because they get lured to cheating.”
Lorupe’s says she and her contemporary athletes have over the years worked to motivate the girl child .
She went on: “We opened the door for others to flourish and they have always looked up to us for success because we achieved quite a lot. During our time, we were very few and ran for the country with all our heart. Since we ran for long, many kids saw what we were doing for the country and strived to emulate us and that is why you see many women winning races nowadays.”
Loroupe urged the upcoming athletes to strive and combine education and sports for the sake of the future. “We all need to play a role and tell the athletes that you can’t live on sports alone. For example, those who are educated are now surviving during this Covid-19 period because of their education. The problem with the current generation is that they are deceived by people who have other interests,” she said.
She said if the country is to raise quality runners, education should be part and parcel of their programme. She urged athletes to be wary of the foreigners legion that only wants to use them. “We need to encourage our boys and girls to strike a balance between education and sports. We serious need to talk to them about alternative careers like sports medicine, nutrition and physiotherapy among others.
Lorupe’s sports life.
The former marathon record holder is forever grateful of how sports transformed her life.
“If it were not for sports, I would not be doing what I’m doing now. I would not be the ambassador to help people in my community who have been involved in banditry. Today, I am peace ambassador and together with National Olympic Committee of Kenya president Paul Tergat and world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge, I was able part of the campaign when Kenya was seeking a slot in the UN Security Council and I’m happy we won the seat. It is very encouraging that a sports personality also contributed towards this important campaign.”
On matters doping, Lorupe is exasperated with the vice she believes is becoming a pandemic like COVID-19.
“We have lost credibility because of doping and it doesn’t augur well for our country," she says.
However, on the flip-side, she feels like there is a bigger plot hatched to finish Africans, owing to our athletics prowess. They simply want to nip our fortunes in the bud.
“Look at the issue of Manangoi for example. He was injured and since he was not training, decided to go to the countryside. Now there are issues with his whereabouts and they want to punish him,” she quipped.
Tegla Chepkite Loroupe Factfile.
DOB: May 9, 1973
POB: Kapsait village, Lelan division of West Pokot District.
*Retired long-distance track and road runner.
*Global spokeswoman for peace, women’s rights and education.
*Holds the world records for 25 and 30kmand previously held the world marathon record.
*First African woman to hold the marathon world record, which she held from April 19, 1998 to Sep 30, 2001.
*Three-time World Half-Marathon champion.
*First woman from Africa to win the New York City Marathon, which she has won twice.
*Gothenburg 1995 bronze medallist 10,000 m
*Bronze medal third place 1999 Seville 10,000 m
*New York City Marathon winner 1994/1995
*London Marathon and Rome City Marathon winner 2000
*Lausanne Marathon winner 2001
*Cologne Marathon winner 2003
*Leipzig Marathon winner 2004 .
*Hong Kong Half-Marathon winner 2006.
* 2006: Named a UN Ambassador of Sport by then Secretary General Kofi Annan, together with tennis icon Roger Federer (Switzerland), soccer legend Elias Figueroa (Chile) and paralympian Katrina Webb (Australia0.
* Named Refugee Team chef de mission in 2016 Summer Olympics.
* October 2016 Awarded UN Person of the Year.