Running into Toby Tanser at the Nike Discovery Cross Country in Eldoret

January 29, 2024

The first Cancer Centre for kids in Sub-saharan Africa, a children’s hospital, six big free-to-attend primary schools for school-going children, many charitable works, and so many women and children empowerment programs makes your mind so engrossed when you suddenly meet Toby Tanser, and you lack the right topic to start the conversation.

Tanser, a former professional athlete, is the founder of Shoe4Africa, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in Africa through various initiatives, primarily focusing on healthcare, education, and sports.

The organization was founded in 1995 and has so far made a significant impact in the communities, especially in Eastern Africa, where Tanser started with the first initiative to provide free shoes for runners who were struggling to pursue their careers in running with limited resources before it expanded to tackle the general challenges faced by children in the African continent.

You would not spend more than a minute having a conversation with Tanser without getting inspired to “run with a purpose.” His mind seems to be constantly preoccupied with what could be done to make the lives of children in Africa better.

Even after building hospitals and schools, Tanser still sees a lot that needs to be done in the communities around him and is thinking of ways to make that happen.

“We have been observing that despite the free education, some children still come to school hungry, and some stomachs are rumbling in some lessons before it is lunchtime,” Tanser said.

One would expect someone who has already done so much in the community to stop at some point and expect others to deal with other problems too. For example, they would say they have helped build the schools to offer free learning and let others work in making sure the children arrive there when they are fed. But, not Tanser. He says he is currently working out how to arrange breakfast for kids in some strategic places.

For the first time this year, Toby had kids running at the Discovery Cross Country event, and he was there beside the course cheering them on with his wife.

“We currently have a training camp for school-going kids in Iten, but we are not aiming to make them professional runners. We want them to enjoy the benefits of running as a recreational and fun activity. The kids we brought here for the Discovery Cross Country event definitely enjoyed the outing, and that is what we aim for at the moment. We are taking in kids who are younger than 15 years, after that if they are talented they can choose what to do for themselves later on in life. We are not involved with professional running,” he said.

As we spoke, two of the kids from their camp came in, they had just ended a two-kilometer run. His wife, Chelimo Saina, hugged them and then laughed at the thought of one of them stopping and coming to listen to what she wanted to tell her when she was cheering them to keep running instead of focusing on running.

Chelimo has been a big part of the women empowerment projects and programs that have helped provide financial stability to many households, and even food to the children’s hospital and schools. These projects are majorly in the agricultural sector, from poultry keeping and dairy farming to fruit farming.

Through these empowerment programs, women convene and learn critical life skills such as best agriculture practices, financial literacy, good health practices, building self-esteem and self-awareness, and developing leadership skills that will enable them to be confident, influential decision-makers among their peers, households, and communities.

There are also industry-specific classes. For example, in dairy farming, they learn about feeding, looking at zero-grazing benefits, fertility matching versus costs, cow ‘weights’ and vet measures, dairy hygiene and relation to milk production, among others.

It is mind-boggling to imagine what running has helped Tanser achieve for the less-privileged kids and women in society. So, after my chat with him, I could not come up with any questions to ask him for the interview, but I will be sure to sit down with him in the foreseeable future.

For those who are interested in running with a purpose, Shoe4Africa is an Official charity partner of the United Airlines NYC Half and the TCS New York City Marathon. You can be able to join them in their charity work to make a change in the lives of kids in Africa.