For a high school world geography teacher and cross country and track coach, a trip to Kenya to visit such sites as the Great Rift Valley while watching some of the world’s best distance runners train seems like the ideal educational vacation. West Monroe High School teacher and coach Dwain McDuffie got to take
such a trip for two weeks in June.
McDuffie applied for a travel grant with an organization called Fund for Teachers. He said he had to write a proposal for a place he would like to travel to, what he would do there and how the experience
would affect his teaching in the classroom.
McDuffie was one of 13 Louisiana teachers in 2012 who received travel grants from Fund for Teachers. He did some searching on the internet to see exactly where in Kenya he would go, and found a high-altitude distance running training center in Iten, Kenya, where many world-class distance runners come from Europe and other parts of world to train.
“During some of their off-season times, they offer the Kenya Experience to just regular individuals who want to experience the Kenyan culture and the running culture that goes along with that,” McDuffie explained. Dutch Olympian and Kenya native Lornah Kiplagat owns and operates the training center with her husband. McDuffie said he attended the Kenya Experience as the only American with four others from the United Kingdom.
He stayed in Nairobi the first couple of days he was in Kenya where he visited an elephant orphanage and a giraffe center. He then went on a safari in Lake Nakuru before traveling to the high-altitude training center in Iten. He said the group’s stops in Nairobi and Lake Nakuru were partly to gradually get acclimated to high altitudes before reaching the approximately 8,000 feet elevation of Iten.
Once in Iten, a town of about 4,000, McDuffie said different elite runners came to talk to his group about training and living in the area. The town is mostly a farming community, McDuffie said, adding that many people are extremely poor. He got to see a typical Kenyan hut made of wood with a straw roof and ate traditional foods, particularly ugali, a thick, cornmeal porridge, which is a staple of Kenyan diets.
McDuffie said getting an in-person look at the people and way of life in Kenya amplified what he knew of Kenya before his visit. “I knew that Kenya was more of a developing country, but until you really just
see it, it’s hard to just look at it first hand and see how most of the country is fairly poor,” McDuffie said. “A lot of the kids didn’t have shoes.
You read about that; you hear about it, but until you actually see it, it leaves a bigger impression
in your mind to actually see these kids that are going off to school when it’s 55 degrees, and they’re wearing no shoes. And they have their school clothes and maybe one other set of clothes.”
In addition to the human geography, McDuffie said he can now discuss having been at high-altitude in Iten and having seen the Great Rift Valley, a 6,000-mile crack in the earth’s crust spanning from Lebanon to Mozambique that runs from north to south through Kenya.
“It’s (Great Rift Valley) one of those things we talk about in class when we get into Africa and east Africa and talking about how that was formed.” Kenya was in the middle of its winter when McDuffie visited. He said the weather was relatively mild but “much cooler than you would imagine being so close to the equator” because of the elevation.
The highs were around 75 degrees with lows in the low 50s, which, he said, felt more like spring or fall in Louisiana. McDuffie reflected on what his trip to Kenya can offer his students and student-athletes. “I can bring some first-hand pictures and the experience there right back into the classroom.”
By Zachary Fitzgerald