Women leading by example – how the U20 refugee team is changing lives, on and off the track
School exam results and personal best running times recorded by a group of refugee athletes are how Kenya’s 2007 world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei measures her success these days.
For just over a year, Jepkosgei has been head coach of the U20 World Athletics Athlete Refugee Team (ART) based at a resettlement camp located around 100km from the South Sudan border in east Africa. A woman-driven programme, it is led by Swiss educator Barbara Moser-Mercer with Jepkosgei as head coach, supported by coach Arcade Arakaza, himself a refugee from Burundi.
Their group of disadvantaged but talented teenagers – eight female and seven male – now call the Kakuma Refugee Camp and neighbouring Kalobeyei Settlement in northwest Kenya home, after fleeing war and hunger in Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
They gained entry into the ART by being the fastest competitors in time trials and they now receive life-saving support in terms of food and clothing as well as life-changing athletics training and education.
The pilot programme they’ve joined is not only revolutionising their lives one stride at a time, but it’s helping shape the future of their remaining families and other members of the wider 222,000 Kakuma/Kalobeyei camp residents who look up to the teenage role models.
The improvement Jepkosgei is witnessing in her teenagers when they have food in their stomachs, clean water to drink, running shoes on their feet and hope in their souls, is dramatic.
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