By Omulo Okoth
It was condemned unheard. But sooner rather than later, those who chided the Standard Chartered Nairobi International Marathon for disrupting traffic flow in the city when they are driving to church may realise its humanitarian mission, which is fighting blindness.
This marathon, held on Sunday mornings since inception seven years ago, did not go down well with churchgoers. Like all major city marathons held around the world, the eighth edition will be held on Sunday.
Beneficiaries of funds raised by the marathon can vouch that the event is making an impact under its Seeing is Believing initiative.
"If only the critics could appreciate the role of the marathon to society, they would be participants," says Anne Njambi, one of the officials. Each participant pays Sh1,000 to register. It is that money that helps in correcting eye ailments.
Christine Wambua, a beneficiary of Seeing is Believing is the face this year’s marathon. She is the gorgeous little girl on the billboards.
Christine was born with congenital cataracts but she can now see and she goes to school. "It took as a while to come to terms with the fact the Christine was blind and we also face with the difficulty of raising money for the surgery as we were both jobless," said Julius Wambua, Christine’s father.
"We visited Dr Mundia at Kikuyu Eye Hospital and after assessing Christine’s condition he told us we could get the surgery for free courtesy of Standard Chartered Bank. Seeing is Believing changed my daughter’s life and I will be running with the rest of my family in support of the noble cause," he said.
At Sabatia Eye Hospital, Juma Mwangona watches over his two five-year old sons as they recuperate from cataract surgeries.
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Mr Juma has 10 children and as fate may have it, four of them were born with congenital cataracts. He had resigned himself to raising four blind children until he visited Sabatia Eye Hospital and the Standard Chartered initiative came to his rescue.
As he waits to go home and bring back the other two children, he said: "I had no means of raising money, not even for one single operation. I am forever grateful to Standard Chartered for saving my children."
The organisers of the marathon work closely with Kikuyu Eye Hospital and Christian Blind Mission to fight blindness. Part of the proceeds goes to Kikuyu Eye Hospital to help treating cataracts. They target children of up to nine years. Other hospitals they have contributed to include Tenwek in Bomet, Kwale District Eye Centre, Lighthouse for Christ in Mombasa and the Sabatia Eye Hospital. This year the initiative sponsored 659 operations in the five hospitals.
With entries expected to between 10,000 and 15,000 runners, the marathon could raise Sh20 million.