Water is something we as Americans can take for granted. Whether it’s turning the faucet on to wash our hands, take a shower or drink, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that clean water access is something that not everyone else in the world can enjoy with as little of effort.
For the third straight year, members of the Grace Fellowship Church, in Titusville, will be conducting the Kilimanjaro Water Run — a fundraising racing event that hopes to support a water storage tank project for members of the Maasai community in Tanzania, Africa. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 installment of the races will be done virtually.
Beginning on May 1 and running through May 25, people that enjoy running, walking and hiking can take part at their convenience and in a safe manner and still be able to support the project that will bring clean water to the Maasai community. And, 100% of the proceeds will go toward the cause.
Now, one may think that a virtual race is limited to the indoors, however, that isn’t the case with the 2020 Kilimanjaro Run. Racers can enjoy the original course at Oil Creek State Park, a path of their own, or stay at home and use a treadmill, while recording their times for a 5K, 10K, “COVID-19K,” marathon or 1-mile kid fun run. All races can be done as an individual or as a group.
The fundraiser was conceived from a 2017 mission trip to Moshi, Tanzania, in which race organizers Kelly Coulter and Babs Kennedy were part of a group of leaders from Grace Fellowship Church that attended a pastor’s conference. There, attendees were exposed to the traditional Maasai culture, in which the men of the society are cattle herders while the women are sold into marriage and relegated to collecting water, cooking and reproducing, according to Kennedy.
“Even though we had both been to Africa before, we just fell in love with the Maasai women,” Coulter said.
Following their initial trip, Coulter and Kennedy traveled together to Israel. Although they were about 4,000 kilometers away and on another continent, the Maasai women were at the forefront of their minds, although without each other knowing at the time.
“We went back home and both realized that God had put this on our hearts,” Kennedy said.
As a few months went by, Coulter thought of putting together a fundraising race after hearing about her son running in a similar event in Washington, D.C. that supported a well being built. Meanwhile, Kennedy drew the same conclusion while running one day. They both shared their idea at a Bible study, and brought the idea to their church’s pastor, Phil Taylor. He suggested doing a water project because it was the number one need of the Maasai people.
After conducting their first race in 2018 that raised between $7,000-8,000, the group went back to Tanzania and worked with the leaders of the tribe to allow them to provide the money for a means to ease the burden of finding and collecting water. After a brief meeting, the Maasai district supervisors returned with the idea of building a sustainable water storage tank.
“We wanted it to be something that the Maasai people wanted,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t want to be Americans coming in and saying, ‘we’re going to do this.’ We wanted them to tell us so we could make their lives better and easier.”
Previously, the women of the tribe were responsible for collecting the water at an area known as ‘the bush,’ which has little shade due to a lack of foliage. In the dry seasons, which are from January to February and then from late June to mid-October, women sometimes have to travel miles away to collect clean water that isn’t contaminated by fluoride. With hotter temperatures during the summer months, the time for collecting can be as early as 3 o’clock in the morning.
To date, the Kilimanjaro Water Runs have raised nearly $20,000 for the project. The Maasai people have worked themselves on building their storage system since 2018, and are close to completely the piping system down from Mt. Kilimanjaro that would bring clean water into the storage tank. Kennedy and Coulter receive updates from a local pastor, while also getting first-hand looks at the progress each year. They recently went back to Moshi in February.
“This ties right into our church mission statement, which is ‘reaching out, touching hearts and changing lives,’” Kennedy said. “We try to live that in our community and through our mission work. The timing all along this project has been incredible. The amount of money that people have wanted to sow into it by sponsoring, running, donating or volunteering has just been incredible.”
As the originally scheduled race date for this year’s race of June 13 was approaching, Coulter and Kennedy were trying to brainstorm ways to keep the race alive despite the threat of a substantial shutdown remaining in effect through the summer due to COVID-19.
Coulter had recently participated in a virtual race with a friend and thought of trying to convert the Kilmanjaro Run into a similar format, while Kennedy came to an equivalent conclusion after being led by her faith.
“Nobody knew how long this pandemic was going to go, so we had to make a decision,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t want to cancel it or postpone it. We prayed about it and we felt that everything wasn’t going to be able to go as originally planned.”
Shortly after Coulter had completed her virtual race, Kennedy asked if she had ever heard of a virtual race, not knowing her counterpart had just finished one. The conclusion seemed obvious, and the duo went to work on adjusting this year’s format.
“We knew that we that we were probably going to have to postpone it, but that meant postponing the entire project,” Coulter said. “The Maasai people would not be able to get their money to continue to do what they needed to be doing. I hadn’t even thought about making our race virtual. (The race I completed) seemed to work. I registered, did the work and then posted my time. It was that easy.”
In the past, the race was somewhat limited by geography to those in the Oil Region, with 94 athletes completing the 5K or 10K in 2019. With it being virtual, the range of those participating has already spread to other states throughout the country and even across the globe. Citizens of Colorado, Delaware and Montana are among registered racers, while Coulter reports that people from Canada and Lebanon are also inquiring about the fundraiser.
“I just think we have a huge opportunity,” Coulter said. “When we had it locally, no one was going to drive (from far away). This just opens it up to a whole new world. It’s kind of amazing. We can’t obviously get together physically and do it, but we can get together in a whole other way.”
People interested in participating can find information on how to register on the race’s Facebook page, “Kilimanjaro Water Run.” Participants will be awarded a medal and T-shirt for completing the race of their choice.
Borland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.