One of the highlights of the year in Northern Kenya is the annual Lewa Marathon. At 42km, 21km, 10km and a 5km kiddie race through the wild, the marathon is one of the most grueling in the world due to the challenging terrain of the area. It is also one of the most sought-after and has been known to attract marathon and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world including sports men and women, celebrities, and diplomats.
I have been to Lewa severally during the race and although I do not take part, the excitement of running in the wild with no physical barriers from wildlife is almost palpable among those who do. The fact that it is for a good cause also gives the runners a fulfilling sense of purpose. Safaricom has sponsored the marathon since it’s inception in the year 2000. In the last two years, the event has attracted further corporate support and is now co-lead-sponsored by Safaricom and Huawei.
The marathon is so prominent that one would be tempted, and forgiven, to think that things at Lewa start and end with it. Far from that. A lot goes on at the conservancy all year round, with impressive gains in wildlife research, wildlife management, wildlife conservation, and community development. Lewa is deeply involved in the people around it and a good percentage of proceeds from the race go to projects like building schools and clinics, plus water and farming initiatives. It is therefore a very fitting vehicle for Safaricom to advance its equally strong community empowerment agenda.
Northern Kenya is classified as an arid and semi arid area. This means that people’s options for income generation are not as many or as varied as they are in other areas of the country. Often times, even Government services do not trickle down to people living in these areas. This has seen a majority of them living in dire circumstances and sometimes abject poverty. With the Lewa marathon which is a charity event, the brunt of poverty and disillusionment is reduced through development projects and the job creation that comes with them. This is in addition to direct job opportunities within the conservancy’s operation offices. Jobs for drivers, accountants, guides, communication personnel and many more.
Lewa also runs a micro credit program to empower women groups with loans to finance businesses. This comes bundled with training on financial literacy not just for the women, but for Morans as well. Around 1,800 women have so far benefited from the micro credit facilities by running businesses like retail shops, tailoring, hair salons and flour mills.
Other than conservation and community development, Lewa plays a big role in peace initiatives around Northern Kenya which has an unfortunate history of marginalization and inter-ethnic conflicts. A lot, if not all of these conflicts are as a result of limited resources and especially water. The conflicts which have resulted to numerous deaths are declining thanks to the conservancy’s continued efforts, and especially the annual race that is organized and executed through many partnerships, including Safaricom. Efforts like encouraging good governance, frameworks for conflict resolution, effective grazing management and creating other ways of earning livelihoods are slowly building towards a more peaceful environment in this previously volatile part of Kenya.
When communities living near wildlife are peaceful and empowered, they are better able to own and protect their own. To safeguard their welfare as well as that of the animals that thrive around them. It is fascinating to see how in the face of communities feeling included, they get directly involved in conservation other than fighting it. They come together and take care of the wild and the wild certainly gives back.
The physical marathon is on hold for the second year now because of Covid19. That does not mean that it has ground to a complete halt though. People can still participate virtually by running from where they are, and they can break the race into sessions as per their convenience.
“With no stopwatch, no time sheet and no spectators, participants are invited to run or walk either 5km, 10km, 21km in their garden, street, local park, beach or treadmill and join forces with others to raise awareness to the tireless work done by the frontline guardians on the ground at Lewa”.
Register here, take part in the race, and you will have played a big part in keeping the North thriving as it embarks on the huge task of Covid recovery. Other than actively taking part, you can also donate.