Cancer facility gift proof that sports can change lives

Sports has changed the world in many ways, and in Kenya our sports people have written history with performances that have stunned the world. Opening a newspaper reporting on athletics, it is rare to read about a major victory without seeing a Kenyan name. But there are other ways that sports are changing the Kenyan landscape.

In the Rift Valley, visitors flock to Iten, Eldoret or Kapsabet to watch the Kenyans run. Daily flights from Nairobi will see tourists arriving in droves hoping for a chance to photograph, talk, or train with the champions. There is another venue; a small New York City charity called Shoe4Africa uses sports to change the country. In Kenya, cancer has ravished the headlines as politicians and the public fall victim to the country’s third largest killer.

In 2015, Shoe4Africa opened East and Central Africa’s public children’s hospital that, each day, treats more than 400-patients. When opened there was just a handful of cancer patients, but today, according to Dr Festus Njunga there are more than 56 cases. Kenyan sports heroes often visit the hospital.

World record holder Mary Keitany recently opened a basketball court, and in May Mr Sub 2, Eliud Kipchoge, an ambassador for the charity like Mary, opened an astro turf soccer field that is used to help rehabilitate the sick kids. He played a match with the cancer patients, brightening their day.

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But it was a day of reminders, if the odds are correct, that 9/10 kids contracting cancers in East Africa will die. That is almost the whole football team of kids. So the Shoe4Africa foundation decided to step up for Kenya, they will fund the first children’s cancer hospital in Sub-Saharan Africa, built in the field next to their general hospital.

Ground-breaking

It will be a 150-bed public hospital named after one of the charity’s donor’s late wife, The Shoe4Africa Juli Anne Perry Children’s Cancer Hospital.

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The charity’s CEO Toby Tanser hopes to bring this gift to Kenya as early as 2020. “We are planning a sporting ground-breaking event not to be forgotten!” said Tanser. The TCS New York City marathon is celebrating their 50th anniversary next year. Kenyans have won more NYC marathons than any other nation. Shoe4Africa will conduct a fund raiser with the NYC marathon and are hoping to get all athletic champions together to ground break, alongside the VIP’s from the marathon’s organisation to begin building the hospital in Eldoret, dubbed the City of Champions.

The chairman of the New York Marathon, George Hirsch, who is on the board of Shoe4Africa, is planning to attend the event having last come to Kenya in 2008 with the film star Anthony Edwards, the chairman of Shoe4Africa.

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The impact will be tremendous, and immediate. “Get this done (100-beds) and we (the doctors) can immediately start saving at least 350-lives per year,” said Dr Terry Vik, MD Professor, Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, and the plan is to add 50-more beds, meaning more lives saved!

The idea to build a children’s cancer hospital has been warmly welcomed and already international support is signing up to help, “I support the activities of Shoe4Africa to help realising such a public centre, which would be the first of its kind in Africa,” said Prof Gertjan Kaspers, MD PhD Head, Dept of Pediatric Oncology & Hematology, Director of the Academy of the new Dutch Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology, a child cancer center in Europe. Support is also coming from the Samoei Ruto Foundation. Cancer is a terrible disease, but the future is looking brighter for the kids of Kenya, thanks to a running foundation.

- The writer is Shoe4Africa foundation CEO

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