By Jennifer Willis
Runners and walkers in GCU’s inaugural Run to Fight Children’s Cancer will be joined in spirit and in deed by a man almost 10,000 miles away in Nairobi, Kenya.
GCU alumnus Frank Kirimi recently came across the GCU Today story about 4-year-old Olivia Baumgardner, who has battled leukemia and will serve as honorary starter for the 5K and 10K races taking place Oct. 15 on campus.
“I read the story of Olivia and it just moved me,” says Kirimi, who was on the men’s cross country team at GCU and still runs when he can find the time. “I love working around kids, and Olivia’s smile sheds hope and resilience.“So on that same day, though I am thousands of miles away, I will go out and run a 5K on my own. And to Olivia, keep up the spirited fight!”
Kirimi came to GCU from Nairobi in 2005 with the dream of receiving a good education at a Christian-based school and then landing a well-paying corporate job so that he could support his wife, Doreen, and two sons, Chris and Finn.
Life had other plans for him.
Kirimi did get the education he was hoping for, graduating in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and then in 2009 with a master’s in management. He ran on the cross country team (2006-08) and then became an assistant coach for the team (2009-10).
Although he was unable to find that elusive corporate job, he did find a calling.
“While I was going to school at GCU, my mom had stopped teaching regular school in exchange for a special-education class in Nairobi,” Kirimi says via email. “I would call home and my mom would be in a remote end of the village finding mentally or physically challenged children to enroll in classes or following up with parents of current students on why they hadn’t brought their children in for class.”
Such scenarios gave him a heavy heart. He moved his family back to Kenya, where he took a job with Life in Abundance International, a non-profit organization with programs in health, education, HIV/AIDS, disaster relief, water and sanitation.
He says he is now able to help his mother in her work. In Kenya, many children with disabilities live a lower quality of life and often are kept out of sight by their families.
“The approach and effort to help families of children with disabilities has for a long time been met with barriers due to ignorance, lack of knowledge and awareness, or just traditional beliefs,” Kirimi says.
“Most parents will tend to favor and devote attention and resources to healthy children over the challenged child. This is in line with the traditional African belief that children are a wealth to their parents and will become the caretakers when the parents are old. Special-needs kids, therefore, become a burden instead of a help.”
Kirimi and his mother want to start a support program for challenged children and their families. They hope to start classes, counseling and rehabilitation designed to break down the barriers that have kept the children from receiving the help and support they need.“We hope to increase the social interaction between families with disabled children in villages in the community, as well as integrate disabled children and young adults into the wider community,” Kirimi says. “We want to show people that just because a child has special needs, it doesn’t mean they can’t be educated or live a higher quality of life.”
Although the program is just getting started as Kirimi looks for partners and sponsors, his family already has helped about 20 children on its own.
“The help we have been able to offer includes buying them school uniforms — which are a requirement for attending school here — providing meals, simple medical care and doing outreach to the families to educate them on the rights of the children,” Kirimi says.
“But it’s not enough. There are many other children out there that we haven’t been able to help because our current resources don’t allow it.”
Because of his love for children, and the purpose he has found in helping them, he’s eager to support his alma mater’s event on Oct. 15.
“The experience my family and I received at GCU instilled in us the skills and values that prepared us to become global citizens. We are practicing that responsible leadership every day.”
To register for the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, which will include a special Cancer Survivors’ Walk, go to www.runtofightcancer.com.
Reach Jennifer Willis at 639.7383 or Jennifer.email@example.com.