BY DOMINIC OMONDI
It is in the wee hours of the morning, and the small town of Ndakaini is already lit up by the big event that lies ahead of the day. By 7am, groups of villagers have already lined up along the road that leads to the starting line of what has been billed as one of the toughest cross-country races in Kenya. The town is hosting UAP Ndakaini Half Marathon, probably the best news most residents of the small town in Murang’a have woken up to in year 2015.
Not all of the 10,000 people attracted to the event are here to spectate; some are here to seize on an opportunity of a lifetime. There is a beehive of commercial activities on both sides of the road that leads to the small Ndakaini stadium.
There are traders selling all kinds of wares-bottled water, roasted beef, boiled yams, mobile phone power banks, beef sausages, boiled eggs, sodas, confectioneries. And pubs, lodges and restaurants are also bleeping and booming invitingly, all certain if one thing – making a kill.
Yet Ndakaini Half Marathon is not just about these traders, nor is it about the eventual winners of the race. It is about millions of Kenyans whose lives – months after quietude has regained its reign in this tea growing area – will continue to depend on it.
For the 12 years that the race has been around, more than 3,500 trees have been planted – thanks to the funds that have been gotten from the race through registration and corporate sponsorship. The marathon is meant to raise awareness on the need to conserve the Aberdare catchment areas. As such, the trees planted are meant to enhance the Aberdares whose waters stream into the Ndakaini dam, which supplies more than 80% of Nairobi’s water.
True enough, there is a lush of greenness that seems to be unique to this hilly, tea-growing area. While the whole of this canopy of green cannot be attributed to the tree-planting initiative, a good part of it can. The people around confirm that such was not the case, 15 or so years ago.
This event has not only grown in numbers and stature, according to Dr Joe Wanjohi, Chairman of the UAP Old Mutual Group, it has also changed the Ndakaini community.
Daniel Kamau, a 40-year-old father of three gets part of his daily bread by planting trees, an activity he has been doing for four years now. He gets the seeds from Ndeka Group – an outfit that takes care of the funds gotten from the race. Kamau also agrees that the trees they have grown have added to the forest cover of the area.
“Also, when you look at the indigenous trees that we normally grow, they are just beautiful. See that? Isn’t beautiful?” He says pointing towards a colourful tree near his home. Kamau says that the community does not only buy trees, there are also villagers who sell them to the Ndeka team.
Mr Peter Mwangi, the CEO of UAP Group Holdings says that the seedlings used by the Ndeka team are bought from the farmers around Ndakaini. Moreover, the tree seedlings fair also taken care of by the Ndeka members who are chosen from the villagers. “And if you look around, you will see a refurbished and beautiful Ndakaini shopping centre,” he adds noting that most of the shops have been built by the Ndeka team. The organisation also built a secondary school in the area.
Prof Joe Kimura is among the founders of the Ndakaini Half Marathon. He is the main man behind the initiative and notes that the need to conserve the environment around Ndakaini and empower the community in Ndakaini started way before, in the colonial days.
The project’s objective according to Professor Kimura is two-fold. First, is to deal with environmental degradation and second, to involve the local people towards this end. The results have been tremendous. “Today, people come here and ask about where the so-called Ndakaini dam is. You can’t see it as it has been covered by the canopy of trees,” he says.
The stadium where the event was being held is a playground for the children in Ndakaini community who never had one. This, says Prof Kimura, is a realisation of a dream that started in 1960 when the emergency ended.
Ndakaini Half Marathon is an exemplary instance of corporate social responsibility. With the emphasis on sustainable development, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is no longer a public relations stunt. CSR needs to be a significant part of a company’s objective. UAP says that it has since anchored conservation of the environment in its mission statement.
Thus, just as businesses strive to consistently make financial returns, they ought to do so about social returns. And this is what the Marathon – now in its twelfth year- has been all about.
Nonetheless, there is also need for the companies to be careful as they go about their CSR activities. Communities need to see that they are involved in each and every activity that involves them – firms must not be seen to be pontificating.
The companies can sometimes be seen to be elitist in the arrangements of their CSR activities – such as this. Indeed, one of the small hitches of the Ndakaini event was around this area as politicians sought to exploit it. As the participants of the event-organisers, those in the corporate rungs and cabinet secretaries, athletes and the media-locked themselves in the stadium- the children peered lustily from the wire-mesh fence.
You could tell that they wanted to be part of the event, but were not allowed to. The area had been cordoned off to all the people save for those who had been invited. Moreover, the area MP cried hoarse of how the community is ensuring Nairobians get clean drinking water while the people of Ndakaini do not have access to clean drinking water. Perhaps, for the organisers of the marathon, their next area of concern should be on how to truly involve the community.