It will be easy to understand the reason why I am interested in starting this Foundation. But I will first introduce my story of how I grew up in Kigali, Rwanda.

Every morning, carrying a bag full of books strapped to my shoulders and sporting tattered running shoes caked in the red dust of Rwandan dirt, I would run 11km to school, then run back home in the afternoon. With no other form of transportation, I ran up and down the hills of my native Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, for three years in order to get to my high school.

I ran past markets, memorials and mud brick houses, past churches, military barracks and Kigali Airport. I would pass construction, street peddlers, and poverty. As I ran, each rolling hill would reveal the changing scenery of a rapidly developing yet still largely impoverished city. When I started, it would take me 45 minutes to get to school. Three years later, it would take me 35 minutes. I treated it like a race. I didn’t like to see some of my schoolmates passing me sitting on a bus.

I was born in Kigali in the spring of 1993, one year before the outbreak of the Rwandan Genocide, which left close to 1 million mostly Rwandan Tutsis dead. I had just had my first birthday when the Hutu militias began hunting Tutsis on the streets of Kigali. Marriage between Hutu and Tutsi was not uncommon in Rwandan society, though identity was passed on paternally. Therefore, despite the fact that my mother was a Hutu; I was a Tutsi like my father.

My biological parents, whom I never knew, were murdered by their neighbors. Unlike hundreds of thousands of Tutsi children who were targeted by the roaming militias, I survived the genocide with the protection of my Hutu aunt.

My aunt was my mom, my dad, she took care of me. You would always see five or six kids in our house, even if she didn’t have enough money to buy food for everyone, she could provide everyone with shelter. She believed that even the little stuff you have can be shared with other people. Widowed by the genocide, my aunt was left to provide for her daughter and adopted children on her own. With scarce employment opportunities for women in a war torn and poverty stricken country, she would sell bananas at the side of the road to make money. Fortunately, I was eventually able to assist my aunt by contributing a small amount of income.

In Grade 4, I joined a running club coached by a lawyer named Jean Damascene who helped his athletes by paying for their primary education fees. I wasn’t very good at running, but Jean would not let me give up so easily and offered me 100 Francs (15 cents CAD) for every practice I attended. With the new found motivation of using that money to help my aunt, I never missed another practice.

As I prepared to write the national exam to gain admittance to a Junior Secondary School, I felt it was pointless. Even if I aced the test, I would not be able to afford the more expensive Junior Secondary School. No one in my family had ever gone to school past Grade 9.

However, thanks to further assistance from Jean Damascene, I would be the first member of my family to attend a Junior Secondary School. The running coach paid for half of my school fees and a charitable organization that assisted poor students covered the rest.

I began practicing twice a day and taking running more seriously. Gradually, I started to get better and began beating the boys who used to tease me. However, it would take a greater challenge than increased practice time for me to become the elite distance runner I am today.

After passing another national exam in Grade 9, I had the opportunity to attend a Senior Secondary School for Grades 10-12 at a school located 11km from his home. Unable to afford the bus ride let alone the cost of living in the school residence, I had no choice but to stuff a backpack with my books and uniform, and run the 22km to school and back five days’ week. I used this long distance run over the mountainous landscape as a training regimen. I timed myself each day, pushing myself to be faster than the day before. After three years, I had knocked one minute off of every kilometer I ran.

As young runner, I began winning every race I entered, obliterating the competition. In 2009, I won Rwanda’s national 1500m championship. Then one day in spring of 2010, after successfully defending my 1500m title, Jean Damascene said to me, “There is a World Junior Championship in Canada, we are looking to send the first Rwandan to it. We think you can go.” To make a long story short, I remained in Canada and was able to finish my high-school. I am now pursuing a University degree in Physics Engineering and a member on the varsity Track & Field team.

Throughout my childhood, I was offered support from generous and kind-hearted individuals. It is my dream to give back to the community. I believe today there are numerous children in Rwanda and Kenya who are living in similar poverty-stricken conditions as I was, and are seeking someone who can provide them support in order to become the best that they can be in life. I strongly believe that “Running Changed My Life Foundation “can assist those who are seeking help in both Rwanda and Kenya, especially in Kigali and Nandi, respectively. Our main focus would be to help children pursue academics and athletics.

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