Frontline World

React

Kenya, RUN, LORNAH, RUN, March 2004

 

 

ARCHIVED CONVERSATION
Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story, including responses from the reporter.

Bertha Kaumbulu - Pt. Richmond, California
Tonight I watched the program segment and when it ended I could only say, simply, WOW! My son who was born in Kenya and who is in the ninth grade was thoroughly engaged when listening to the determination of the Kenyan women.

The program offers prime material for middle and high school instruction. As an adjunct faculty member at Dominican University, I also see a strong link to the course that I teach in Education and Culture.

Great show!

Carolyn Campanile - Plano, Texas
It is unfortunate that [the viewer in] Granville, MA saw your story as a reflection of an entire nation. I saw it as a portrait of one woman, reaching her goal, and giving back to other women. This woman just happens to live in Kenya; I hope that the world has many women like Lornah that reach out to others and inspire us to do the same.

Bob Creed, Jr. - Idaho Falls, Idaho
I coached a Kenyan women's cross-country team to the District, Regional and Provincial Championships from 1983 to 1985. Watching "Run, Lornah, Run" brought back many powerful memories of my Peace Corps experience at the Biwott Technical School in Chepketeret, Kenya a few [kilometers] south of Iten. Although we were an O-level school, we often competed with St. Patrick's and I spent quite a few days in the company of Colm and the other Patrician brothers at St. Patrick's. They were wonderful hosts... . The young women runners of Biwott Technical School brought a tremendous amount of pride to their community. BTS was considered a lesser school (no electricity, telephones, regular mail or running water) where the primary objective was to obtain a "leaver's certificate." Partly due to the difficulty in attracting teachers to such a remote and cold (the school was at 9,000 ft above sea level)location, most of the students had little hope of passing the O-level exams which allow them to continue their education. ... Knowing a little bit about running and the history of the Kalenjin runners (such as Henry Rono), I determined that this existing source of pride could be amplified and used to motivate these kids. ...

My Dad was an avid runner at the time (he qualified for the Boston marathon three times) and he belonged to a Memphis, Tenn. running club. In one of my letters home, I explained that I was trying to establish a running program and could the club send a few pair of shoes to help motivate the runners? In a profound and overwhelming display of generosity, his running club sent three boxes of running shoes... . I would take pictures of the top three runners every training race and let them have their pick of the shoes my dad sent. ... It also turned out that some of the best runners turned into the best students. I am very happy to say that while I was at BTS, 16 students passed their O-level exams. The whole community seemed to take pride in the young women's accomplishments. The Elgeyo-Marakwet Kalenjin did not have a good reputation in some ways and the successes of their young women meant a lot in terms of tribal bragging rights. Perhaps our crowning achievement came at the District Championships when BTS became District champions by defeating Kapkenda girls school. Kapkenda was like a well-funded private school compared to BTS and had two Olympic distance runners on their team! The whole community was smiling for days after that meet and people were walking on clouds in the following months after we won the Regional and Provincial Championships. ... Given this sense of pride, students began to believe that they could pass the national exam. ...

I benefited more from the Elgeyo Marakwet Kalenjin than they benefited from me. I must admit that when I arrived at BTS I was as self-centered and cynical as most college age adults but this community changed me in the most profound and permanent way. Most Americans will never understand the sense of community and appreciation that rewards even the smallest contribution to community pride and improvement.

Rick - Houston, Texas
I loved this story! Good job! More power to Lorna and all the female athletes at her camp training hard for victory and a chance at a better life, while eroding stereotypes and placing Kenyan women center-stage in the international arena of athletic excellence.

Anonymous - Oakland, California
We'd like to know how to support Lornah's project in Kenya. How can we reach her.

Co-producer Alexis Bloom responds:
If you want to get a hold of Lornah, she has a web site: www.lornah.com. I'm sure she would appreciate your support.

Anonymous - Berkeley, California
This was a beautiful, poignant story of a woman giving back to her community and offering fellow women a chance to improve their lot despite obstacles of chauvinism and societal inequity. One question, though: It seems as though Lornah's camp would be a national asset to Kenya, as it's helping train the next crop of possible Olympiads. Doesn't the government then have an obligation to help subsidize the cost of running the camp instead of having Lornah continue to foot the bill for its existence?

Co-Producer Alexis Bloom responds:
The Kenyan government supports athletics through institutions like the army, the police force and the prison guard system. Many Kenyans who want a career in athletics will sign up to one of these services, and train under their aegis. Athletes are fed, clothed, and encouraged to run - and when they win, the glory rubs off onto the institution. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement. But the result is that the Kenyan government tends not to support private running camps (for those who don't want to sign up to the army, police force or prison guard system.) Lornah's camp is also the only one for women in the country - women athletes are not considered as important as men. So I'd venture to say that if the Kenyan government did end up supporting a private training camp, it wouldn't be one like Lornah's - which is specifically for women.

Rahul Mehta - Detroit, Michigan
Hello!! Fortune favors the brave and that's what the record breaker has proven it.

It takes a lot of guts and determination to achieve a stage where she is and all my appreciation to her.

I wish her all the best for [the] future too and hope, like her, other women from Kenya become successful against all odds. Please let me know if I can be [of] any help.

Thanks,
Rahul

Anonymous - Granville, Massachusetts
Although I agreed with some [of the] issues in the article, and I have to commend Lornah for "giving back", I once again was sad at the negative picture the West paints when it comes to Africa. Granted we are poor. But we are still "normal" and we are happy, in fact very happy and well- adjusted citizens compared to the craziness here in the US.

I realize that now because I have lived the "American Dream" but I have realized that what I had growing up was priceless and no "riches" in the West can compare. Like most Kenyans who have lived the "dream" life abroad, Lornah has also realized that the answer is back home in Kenya and once again, I commend her. Most Kenyans give back to their country - we are just not famous. One of the foreign exchange earners for Kenya is Kenyans abroad sending money home, to help our communities. I am a 38-year-old Kenyan and grew up poor by US standards though normal by Kenyan standards. No dishwashers, one flushing toilet for a family of nine (believe me we have flushing toilets, even in rural schools) and cold showers, but comfortable by Kenyan standards as I had my basic needs taken care of.

Fact - when I was in Kenyatta University, there were more women than men in college, and when we joined the workplace after graduation, our earning power was at par with our male colleagues as the pay scales were controlled by the government based on your education and not sex. The economy has declined since[.] However, in the US, I have consistently found that men are paid more regardless of having the same education. That is not too common in Kenya if you have an education.

I do not believe this story is balanced nor a true reflection of most women in Kenya. I believe it is time [for] us Kenyans [to] interview our own famous people, and write our own stories. I am sick of the Western perspective which is always skewed. Imagine if I interviewed Americans who have made it from the ghettoes, or from poor Southern states in the US who still use outhouses and used that as a yardstick to measure the US, how accurate would that report be? I would like to read about regular Kenyan girls who are in regular boarding schools and will not wash a man's sneakers!!

... [A] Kenyan girl is brought up to depend upon herself from day one and never on a man as he can marry wife number whatever and you are left in the cold. For that reason, Kenyan women are pretty outspoken and pretty tough and don't take nonsense from men and tend to save for a rainy day. At least that was factual - women are the workers[.] In addition, academically, girls' schools top the country in national exam performance. They occupy most of the top twenty places! The fact that we are not well-represented in parliament is not any different from the US and the Senate representation. I refuse to believe [that] just because you are richer, you are happier or have a better life. ...

If I interviewed [a] woman from [a] polygamous household in Utah as [the] US standard, how accurate would that be? Please be balanced in your reports. I urge you to interview girls from a regular, government, girls' boarding school, and you will be surprised. In 20 years will you be wondering where all these progressive Africans came from with all these negative, inaccurate report[s]?

Co-producer Cassandra Herrman responds:
Thank you for your comments. I'm sorry that you felt Kenya was negatively portrayed. As filmmakers, our intention was to show the positive efforts of some very talented, strong Kenyan women.

You raise some valid points and I agree that there are many well-educated, independent and resilient women in Kenya. I feel that Lornah and the women at her running camp reflect this. And on a broader scale, there are Kenyan women who have achieved great success in business, politics, and higher education. I do not think we in any way negate this in our piece. However, I lived in Kenya for two years and have been there often over the past decade and have met many women who feel trapped by circumstance -- lacking the fees to go to school or struggling to make a living and care for their children. It is a society, like much of the world, that favors boys over girls. Which is what makes the achievements of women like Lornah all the more remarkable.

I agree that it would be unfair to portray poor Southerners or polygamists as the "U.S. standard" but I don't think that's what we've done to Kenya in this television piece. We do not cover the society as a whole but rather look at the accomplishments of a woman who inspires social change and who is recognized for her struggle and success around the world. And ironically, I think Lornah and the female runners in the piece are very strong examples of what you argue is lacking in western media coverage of African women.