Henry Wanyoike – Far left.

Last Saturday saw the coming and going of the 11th edition of the “hope for the future” race. This annual community race that takes place every first Saturday of June in Kiambu county is the brain child of Henry Wanyoike, and is organized and executed through the Henry Wanyoike Foundation.

Henry is a visually impaired Kenyan athlete and his story is one of strength, discipline and resilience. It is an empowering story of a man who went to sleep normal one day in 1995 and woke up with 95% of his eyesight gone. The remaining 5% eyesight would deteriorate over the years until he was left completely blind. He went through the expected motions of shock, despair and the hopelessness of thinking that his life was over. He felt that any dreams he had as an athlete or indeed as anything in life ended with the stroke that damaged his optic nerve and caused his blindness at the young age of 20.

As expected, Henry took years to accept his fate, to re-learn things and to build himself again. And rebuild himself he did! With lots of encouragement from family, teachers and doctors, he went back on the tracks where he went ahead to win medals and set records. Henry believes that his achievements should not necessarily be measured in money but by what he can do to help the people around him and especially people living with disabilities. That was the driving force behind the founding of the Henry Wanyoike Foundation in 2005.

Henry Wanyoike Foundation is a charitable organization that operates in and out of Kikuyu to organize the afore mentioned hope for the future race. Proceeds of the race which is partly sponsored by Safaricom under the Safaricom Athletics Series go towards providing mobility aids to persons living with disabilities. For example, so far 400 walking sticks have been given to the visually impaired, and 100 wheelchairs to paraplegics. The foundation is also involved in education, having built a nursery school within which they also have a feeding program for less advantaged children in the community. Furthermore, at least 8 to 10 disadvantaged children who perform well in KCPE around the county are seen through high school by the foundation. This number can go higher depending on the number of supporting partners.

The foundation also takes part in environmental conservation by planting trees in schools and educating youngsters on the important of the same. This is in addition to year long mentorship programs in schools in matters life and future.

This time I was glad to be at the race. Not as a participant but I hope to be one next year. What struck me first when I got there was how much support the annual event has in the community. Early morning and Wangige was packed with people from near and far. The race attracted 10,000 participants and thousands more who came to witness the flag off and cheer the runners on. People took time off  of their usual morning activities to come and show support for this very worthy course whose work they’ve witnessed in their communities. The 8.3km race starts at Wangige and ends at Alliance Boys High school. The 3km seniors and kiddie race had been flagged off earlier that morning at Gitaru.

There were many participants from all over the country but one who really captured the spirit of community for me is Rachel Nyangasi who traveled all the way from Vihiga by overnight bus on the eve of the race. That would be normal, except that Rachel is on wheelchair and it obviously takes this much more for her to make that sacrifice. I asked her why and her answer was simple and straight forward. “I cannot miss the Henry Wanyoike race. I just cannot”. The 52 year old mum of six and grandma of one started taking part in the hope for the future races a few years back when she was living and working in Naivasha. She feels a sense of belonging and achievement every time she’s with her peers here and would love to have something like this back home in vihiga. Rachel came in at number 3 in the wheelchair race.

This sense of belonging is what community is all about and the hope for the future race captures the essence of communities coming together or the good of everyone.

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