Paul Tergat

Ambassador Against Hunger

Few people are as qualified as Kenyan marathon legend, Paul Tergat, to explain how food aid can transform the lives of hungry children.

Born in Kenya’s Rift Valley to a family of 17 children, Tergat grew up amid the hardship and want of rural poverty. He remembers going to bed hungry and waking up the next morning with an empty stomach that made the three-mile trek to school seem like a marathon.

“Without food, it was very difficult to walk to school, let alone concentrate on our studies,” Tergat recalled.

His life changed in 1977 at the age of eight with the introduction of a WFP school meals programme in his part of Kenya. Tergat says the nutritious lunches he ate in class not only gave him the energy to concentrate in school, but to run there and back.

“WFP’s lunches helped us get the most out of our educations,” he said.

Unlocking talent

Tergat has little doubt that the food which gave him the strength to carry on at school was also a key factor in unlocking his athletic talent.

Between 1993 and 2000, he won a total of 13 World Cross Country Championships, two consecutive World Half Marathon Championships, and a pair of Olympic silver medals for the mens’ 10,000 metres.

The highpoint of his career came in 2003 at the Berlin Marathon where Tergat smashed the World Record by a whopping 43 seconds, a title he held on to for four years.

He set the athletic world aflame again in 2005 by winning the New York City Marathon after a thrilling sprint finish through Central Park.

Road to success

Tergat became a WFP Ambassador Against Hunger in 2004, at the height of his career, with the promise to support the same school feeding programmes that set him down the road to success.

“School children around the world must have the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” he said.

In 2007, Tergat accompanied American actress Drew Barrymore on a trip to his native Kenya to visit a school in the notorious Kibera slum of Nairobi, where school meals were making education possible for around 470 children.

He later went with Barrymore and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran to Washington D.C., to rally support for legislation that would boost US funding for school meals programmes like the one in Kibera slum.

In 2007, Tergat dedicated his participation in the London Marathon to the plight of hungry children all over the world.

“As sports men and women, it is important for all of us to use our privileged positions to raise awareness about the challenges that some of the less fortunate among us have to face.”

In October 2013, WFP-USA arranged for Tergat to return to Washington, D.C., to talk to legislators about the importance of school meals programmes. He also talked to local high school and college students about WFP. Tergat is pictured at Dunbar High School at lower left and at American University above right.

Paul Tergat talks to Al Jazeera about the school meals that changed his life:

Partner profile

Profession: distance runner. Twice Olympic 10,000 metre silver medallist (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000) World marathon record holder, 2003-2007. Winner, 2005 New York marathon.

WFP partner since: January 2004