Duathlon champion to run from Watamu to Busia in bid to save trees

It is estimated that every year, a school of 1,500 students uses approximately 50 acres of forest for their energy source: firewood. It is also estimated that schools use approximately 50,000 hectares of forest each year.

“Those are astronomical figures and yet, until we focus on not just planting trees but also stopping the cause of deforestation, we will never plant enough trees to make up for those felled each year,” says Mona Ombogo, Rotary Club of Athi River Project Director.

The Rotary Club of Athi River (RCAR) has embarked on a multi-year project dubbed Border to Border, and partnered with James Mbugua, renown duathlon athlete, to run from Watamu to Busia in 30 days. The aim is to raise awareness and funds to give schools alternative energy sources, specifically, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) systems. Their target in their first year is to replace five firewood kitchens in five schools with LPG systems. “That will save 165,000 trees along the Watamu – Busia belt. We picked Watamu as a starting point because the Rotary District 9212 annual conference will be held there. We will also incorporate at least 15 other clubs along the belt,” says Club President Mutheu Kasanga.

Running approximately 1,400km from April 26 to June 3, Mbugua will be joined along the way by cyclists, walkers, recreational runners and members of various Rotary clubs.  Kilifi based Kenya Fitness Challenge members will also join the runners.

“When we heard about this project, we had to jump in. While James runs, we will scatter our members throughout the route, and ensure he is never on the road alone,” says Robert Wilkins, the Kenya Fitness Challenge spokesman.

“Although we will not keep abreast with him the entire time, we believe just knowing there are others on the road, will give him strength and courage to continue,” he adds.

Last year, Mbugua run from Eldoret to Mombasa to raise funds for children with heart conditions. In 2015, he rode his bicycle from Kenya to India, a journey of 21,000km. In 2018, he was selected as the first African to qualify for one of the world’s most challenging bicycle racing competitions, The Red Bull Tran-Siberian Extreme.  

When James Njagi, Projects Director, Rotary Club of Athi River donated reusable pads to Mitaboni Primary School. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

“I am excited to embark on this run. I’ve been training for months now and when I completed my first 70km back in January, I knew I would be ready,” Mbugua says.

He adds: “For me, sports is more than just accomplishing the unimaginable, it’s about using those fetes to turn people’s attention towards important things like health and climate.”

Border to Border started when Mbugua run through Athi River in 2023. Discussing the trials and triumphs of his run, which was to end in Mombasa, Mbugua and Mona Ombogo discussed possibilities of him running in partnership with the Rotary Club of Athi River.

“We did not have an actual cause locked at the time. But after bringing this project to the club, it became clear that one of the things causes we wanted to drive was protecting the environment, trees to be exact. We live in a dry belt, and every time there is a drought, Athi River and Ukambani at large, are hit hard,” Mona says.

She adds: “Running to give alternative energy sources and protect our trees stood out as a worthy cause to fuel.”

Border to Border will flag off on April 26, 2024, at Watamu Primary School in Kilifi County and will be officiated by Rotary District 9212, top leader, District Governor Leonard Itahu.

“Our district governor called us to bigger, more impactful projects this year. Climate is no longer something we can use as a buzz word, we must join hands and actively change the tide. Droughts are hitting us too often, too hard. We are losing wildlife in Athi-Kapiti belt, scores of people are losing livestock, starvation and hunger looms all the time for many,” Mona says.

Other partners like the Enda Athletic: Run Kenya will provide the athletes with running gear. 

“We are calling on all who support a green Kenya to join us in this nationwide campaign,” says project lead Linus Okite.

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