Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Running a marathon for a kid named Francis

Some of you might know this by now, but I am going to be running the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 3rd. In addition to attempting to complete all 26.2 miles without stopping or crying, I will be raising money for Francis Omondi, an 11-year-old boy who lives in a slum in Kenya. The money I raise will allow Francis to get a quality education at a boarding school, something he simply would not be able to do without sponsorship.

I want to ask each of you to help me send Francis to school. I would really appreciate it if you would donate $30 (or more, or less… honestly, anything is appreciated) towards my goal.

If you would like to know more about the who, what, why and how, please read on. If you would just as soon avoid my blathering but would still like to help, you can skip to the bottom to the cleverly-named section entitled: “How Can I Help?”

A marathon? Really? Why… why would you do something like that?

I have thought about this quite a bit. Given the pain and exhaustion I'm feeling during my training runs, I may have a grudge against myself. This might be a form of aerobic self-loathing.

Actually, I’ve running a lot more often since I’ve been in New York, and have done a number of races including a half-marathon. And I guess I wanted to challenge myself to do something I never thought I would do.

I also wanted to sponsor a needy child like Francis. Running to raise money for his schooling will provide me with added motivation before and during the race.

But... really? I've seen you wearing shorts. Your legs... they're so skinny. They're barely three-dimensional.

That's not very nice.

Seriously. They're like little knobby-kneed, hairy toothpicks. Anyway. What organization are you working with to sponsor Francis?

I am working with AmericaShare, the non-profit arm of the company I work for. AmericaShare is dedicated to helping the people of Mukuru and other Nairobi slums who have been affected by HIV/AIDS epidemic.

You can learn more about AmericaShare at (incidentally, I also happened to have written much of the site. So please refrain from caustic critiques unless you want to hurt my feelings).

Through AmericaShare’s School Sponsorship Program, vulnerable children (often orphans) are paired with sponsors who cover the cost of sending them to a boarding school. The sponsorship covers tuition, books, uniforms, room and board and all the basic items a student needs for a year of schooling.

I have learned a lot about AmericaShare and their work since I’ve been with Micato. I admire what they do and I am inspired by what they accomplish. Here are a few quotes from children who have been sponsored—they are taken from letters the children sent to their sponsors:

“Thank you very much for what you have been doing for me. If it were not for you, my whole [life] would have perished. You have really brought sunlight back to my life.”

- Jane, 15 years old

“I want to thank you very very much for agreeing to support me. It’s like you have rescued me from a prison where I was locked in.”

- Justus, 12 years old

“Every time and whatever I do, I will always pray to God to reward you so you can continue helping others.”

- Eunice, 13 years old

Who is Francis Omondi?

Francis is 11 years old, the last in a family of seven children (his picture is attached). Francis’ father died of HIV-related infections when he was three. His mother is also HIV-positive--and since becoming re-infected with tuberculosis, she cannot work. Because his mother is unable to earn money, Francis and his siblings are reliant upon charity.

Francis lives in Mukuru, a large slum outside Nairobi that I visited when I was in Kenya. It is estimated that families of five are surviving on an average of $1.30 per family per day in Mukuru; some by selling things or offering services, other by walking several miles to a factory and working as a day laborer.

The slum has an estimated population of over 500,000, of which sixty percent are under the age of 18. There is an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 15 percent, and approximately 30 to 40 percent of the children in Mukuru have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

This is Francis Omondi’s reality. He sees poverty, dirt, disease and a daily struggle for survival. This is what he is surrounded by day by day, and what shapes his choices. For better or worse, this is what he knows.

I want Francis to know something else.

And what is that?

What a good and convenient question. With your help, Francis will know that people he never met cared enough to send him to school. He’ll know that he can shape his reality just as easily as it can shape him, and that there are people who want to help him do that. The impact of sponsorship is direct and hard to overestimate... Francis will be given an opportunity to change his life for the better.

What is your goal?

My goal is to raise $3,000 for Francis’ schooling. The cost to sponsor a child is $1,500 for a year, so this will be enough for two years, and it will give me a head-start on saving for future years.

How about the goal for the marathon?

Finishing. I may have a time goal in mind closer to the actual date of the race, but right now I have my eye on simply crossing the finish line with my person and my dignity intact.

How can I help?
There are two ways you can donate: by check and online. If you donate online, please be sure to follow the directions--otherwise it may result in you supporting a child entirely on your own (which, while noble, is considerably more expensive).

By check: Make checks payable to AmericaShare, and please put a note on the check indicating that it is for Francis Omondi. Please send it to my attention at the address below. This is my work address—it will allow me to collect the checks and give them to AmericaShare all at once (they are in the same office as me).

Philip McCluskey

Micato Safaris

15 West 26th Street

New York, NY 10010

Online: you can donate on AmericaShare’s website using PayPal.

Simply scroll down to “General Donation,” (not Sponsor a Child's Education) put the amount you wish to give in the box, and follow instructions from there.

On the page that says "Review your Donation", there will be a link saying "Please write any additional notes here." Please click it, and put my name or Francis’s name in the box that pops up. Otherwise, AmericaShare won’t be able to determine that your gift is for Francis. Once your donation is complete, you'll receive an email confirming it. IMPORTANT: Do not click on Sponsor a Child’s Education... this is the one that will cost you quite a bit more than thirty bucks.

You can also help just by sending some words of encouragement. No matter what… thank you. I really appreciate any and all help you can give me. And I know Francis will too.

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At 3:17 PM, Blogger gradyo said...

you had me at "barely three-dimensional". phil, you're the man. skinny and white, but the man.

i'm so damn proud of you for doing this. t-minus 52 days, 16 hours... primanti's and arns are on me at the finish.. think we can get a cap and cheese to francis?

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Cousin Christy said...

Any updates on your success with the marathon fundraising??

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