This story has been written with the help of Cross World Africa and Susan Lang of the Cornell Chronicle. The photos were taken by Derek Alvez.
Just about a month ago, Cornell assistant coach Kevin Thompson led a delegation associated with Big Red track & field to Kenya under his nonprofit organization, Cross World Africa, Inc. Part of the mission of CWA is to help prepare African youth for a U.S. college education.
“CWA is trying to fill in the gaps left after the recent upheaval in Kenya and provide opportunities for youth in East Africa,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s travel team included Cornell head coach Nathan Taylor, two former Heps champions Adam Seabrook and Aaron Merrill, Thompson’s wife Michelle and CWA board member Derek Alvez.
The trip (June 17-29) was to Eldoret, Kenya, where the Cornellians prepped more than 40 Kenyan students for the SATs, delivered 17 computers for a lab at the new Kip Keino High School and funded a micro-finance program for women. Thompson also met with local organizers to plan a “Kip Keino Mile and Health Fair,” where information on HIV/AIDS and birth control will be available at a November race in Eldoret.
“Kip Keino was a childhood idol of mine,” said Thompson of the famed Kenyan long-distance runner. “I remember when I was 10 watching him in 1968 win an Olympic gold medal [in the 1,500-meter run]. Being a young African-American kid, I had never seen a person of color running distance, and you could just see he was an extraordinary person.” Keino, dubbed an “athlete who cares,” by Sports Illustrated, would go on to open an orphanage, athlete training center and two schools in western Kenya. Thompson would go on to be motivated by him.
“His philosophy of caring about people, and youth in particular, inspired me, and one of my major goals in life has become to help young people in any way that I can,” said Thompson.
“I spent most of the time in urbanized areas such as Eldoret and Kapsabet,” said Michelle Thompson. “In between these two communities is a very plush and vibrant landscape etched with pockets of indescribable poverty. The lack of adequate services such as public transportation, sidewalks, drainage, sanitation and roadways was severe and apparent. However, the people remain friendly and appear to be hopeful that each day will be better than the last. Children are very open and are willing to smile and greet you with sweet voices yelling ‘how are you’ from roadside ditches as they move cattle along that appear to be 10 times the size of their master. Being in Kenya is a humbling experience but also equally enlightening and beautiful.
“I was not an Ivy League Athlete but would suggest to student-athletes that they should bring their energy and talents to Kenya and other Sub-Saharan African countries. One night Aaron and Adam were talking about how they balanced their training with academics at the collegiate level. Gladys, an emerging distance runner, listened intently and replied that she only hopes to have such an opportunity. Even if Athletes don’t participate in the LGR-CWA SAT prep program, they could spend time discussing their experiences to those who may never see the United States nor attend a college of any kind. This type of cross cultural exchange is truly priceless and allows those with limited chances with hope for a different future.”