Research seems to lead me in funny directions. In the midst of tackling something totally different, I came across KenSAP, a project put together by Olympian and Professor at Kenyatta University, Mike Boit, and John Manners, formerly a journalist with Time magazine.
The organization, the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Program, started by finding a half-dozen students in the Rift Valley with promising academic credentials. Mike Boit identified them and John Manners gave them the preparation to deal with the SAT and the application process. Of that first six, five went on to attend top-notch American universities, including three to Harvard, the men realized they had found a means of making large and positive life-altering changes for their charges.
Since 2004 when they first started, they have put 117 students into the American university system. Unlike American athletes who often are given a soft glide into college (and sometimes, it extends in college, as recent revelations of massive fraud at UNC demonstrates), the Kenyan students must score in the top one percent on the tests that the country uses for students to successfully exit high school. Unsurprisingly, their success rate in the United States soars above that of the general populations of the various school. In fact, 114 of 117 students so far have earned a sheepskin, or are making timely progress to doing so.
As Caitlyn Hurley documents in her Boston Globe feature from 2013, the students were not primarily selected for running ability, though the region was. Boit and Manners headed to Western Kenya, home of the Kalenjin tribe. It is from here that Boit, and Rono, and so many of the great runners came. The presumption, born out as true, that the people of the area would be better than average directed them to search for the applicants there.
The early success of KenSAP caught the eye of Canadian Charles Field-Marsham. Field-Marsham has extensive business interests in Kenya, dating from a decade-long residence there with his Kenyan wife. His business instincts proved solid as he started what became Kenya's large stock brokerage, Kestrel Capital. He imported Komatsu equipment, helping to revolutionize the industrial sector, and then saw potential in mining. Purchasing a failed site from the government and implementing new processes, the mine is now a world-leader in the production of fluorspar. In short, Field-Marsham qualifies for the title of financial genius.
Less well known are his extensive philanthropic activities. In 2005, he began to provide assistance to the students, helping with the numerous fees involved. With the disparity of wealth between the US and Kenya, what seems annoyingly high in fees here can appear an insurmountable mountain from Eldoret. Field-Marsham extends the effort to funding two residential training sessions with the prospective scholars and a measure of support for them in the United States.
The Kenyans have a word, harambee, which means pull together. In a uniquely Kenyan way, the High Altitude Training Center and Lornah Kiplagat offered the use of the HATC for the a secure and safe environment for the program. It has since become the Kenyan home for KenSAP.
Lest I give the wrong impression, the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Program does not promote athletes. They do administer a 1500m test race as part of the qualifications. Of those tested, approximately 20 percent show the kind of promise that attract additional attention from a US university. Essentially, this is the opposite of the US system which admits less academically qualified athletes who have high athletic ability.
I'm hoping that I'll have a chance to meet and talk to both John Manners and Mike Boit when I get to Kenya to learn more about their program. I'll keep you posted.