Isaac Macharia: Retired athlete with big heart for philanthropy
What you need to know:
- Not for Isaac Macharia, a self-made hustler from a remote village in Nyahururu who has attended the same church service with Washington where the star worships together with such greats as LA Lakers legend Magic Johnson
- He offers free education to 300 students in Kenweed School, an institution he built with the help of friends in Ngong eight years ago
- The Kenswed Hospital offers healthcare services at a subsidised rate, with many services free for the vulnerable and young mothers
- Macharia said that he was motivated by a strong desire to help alleviate poverty and bring changes through education; a tool he says changed his life
How does one feel to share a church pew with film megastar Denzel Washington?
Certainly great, and many a Kenyan would shout and post such pictures on social media and buzz about this for long.
Not for Isaac Macharia, a self-made hustler from a remote village in Nyahururu who has attended the same church service with Washington where the star worships together with such greats as LA Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
Services are ministered by Bishop Charles E Blake, the Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, in Los Angeles, California, and Macharia’s personal friend.
Macharia is one of the least visible Kenyan athletes who has transcended from being a runner to a coach, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
He rubs shoulders with the famous and mighty, runs a successful Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) but remains forever the humble next-door neighbour aspiring to serve humanity.
“Other than running and coaching, I’m the assistant to my boss’s company, Possosports International, and we manage athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Eriteria,” says Macharia.
On business, the 42-year-old notes: “I am also an entrepreneur with interest in clean energy and tech. I am the director of a solar power company, Miale Solar (co-founded with Swedish partners) and a software company, Smart People Africa (SPA) co-founded with my friend Stephen Ndirangu, which provide software solutions.
He also has a printing press and has a micro-lending company.
“For my charity work, I am the Director of the Kenswed School, The Kenswed Hospital and Kenswed TVET which is under construction,” said Macharia.
He recalls his visit to the USA with nostalgia.
“Bishop Blake pastors people like Washington, Magic Johnson among other celebrities. They are very humble people despite the huge media attention they receive. They made a big impression on me.
“Bishop Kamau of Cornerstone Church gave me the opportunity to travel with him to the USA to connect with Bishop Blake.
He recently visited Kenya and again the bishop gave me the opportunity to chauffeur him around.”
Macharia plans to reconnect with Hollywood later this year for charity, certainly a major leap for a man who has never stopped dreaming since bathing at Nairobi River daily to change his fading tracksuit for formal attire after running all the way from Uthiru before proceeding to Kenya Power College in Ruaraka over 20 years ago.
Macharia’s main pre-occupation is philanthropy. He offers free education to 300 students in Kenswed School, an institution he built with the help of friends in Ngong eight years ago.
Recently, he opened Kenswed Hospital for the vulnerable and poor.
He explains that his school is free. “We have made education absolutely free for our students, our students only buy their personal effects when reporting such as toothbrushes and shoe,” he said.
“All other items like uniform, food, and books are provided for free. We are eight-years-old this year with the current population of 300. Many students have already graduated and are leading a successful life which is my greatest motivation.”
This sacrifice does not come cheaply.
“I wouldn’t like to quantify, but it is quite a lot. The facilities are located in Ngong on a land I bought with the first prize money I won.
“For the two projects - school and hospital – the operation costs are more than Sh2 million per month with salaries of teachers, doctors, and nurses taking Sh1 million-plus.
“This is without considering construction and university scholarships, so it is quite a lot of money,” he said.
“The benefit though is a million times more, looking back at the many people that have benefited through these projects. The trickling effect runs very deep.
Kenweed School and hospital are supported by several prominent people in Scandinavia, led by Zelmerlöw and Bjorkman Foundation, an NGO founded by prominent Swedes, musician Män Zelmerlow, winner of the 2015 Eurovision musical concert, and professional tennis player Jonas Bjorkman.
“Others are Global Relations NGO, led by Professor Per-Olof Hanson, Jonas Barman, and Kasper Skarrie who lead a very generous team.
“Män came through for us in a big way and has seen Kenswed grow to what it is today,” said Macharia.
“Professor Per-Olof Hanson is visionary and a devoted champion of human rights, together we conceived the idea of Kenswed, starting really small with just one classroom.
“Having said that, I owe my parents, Mzee Daniel Wanjohi and Jane Njeri a lot as they remain my pillar of hope.”
They inculcated a culture of love, compassion, and care for others from when we were young. This has been my the foundation.
“In fact, we have a university scholarship programme through which many have been sponsored to join universities and colleges,” he said.
“The first cohort are in the final years of their university education. We also saw the need for technical and vocational training skills which informed us to enroll some of our students in these technical schools.
“The winners of all Japanese high school races in 1,500 metres and 5,000m are boys from Kenswed School who got sponsored to study and train in Japan,” he said.
The school also equips its students with technical and entrepreneurship skills and many have ended up being successful.
Macharia is fond of his mother whom he greatly appreciates for working hard to raise a big family.
“My focus has been in sports and education - two areas which are very impactful to the youth. I ventured into healthcare and maternity services in honour of my mother who is a very strong woman,” said Macharia.
He added: “Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, we have extended our school’s E-Learning to the underprivileged of the marginalised communities for free.
“This has been enabled by a more improved platform through our software company platform we are calling “Elimu time.”
He added that they realised that the underprivileged children are disadvantaged because they could not access content online.
“We are giving free online education to the very vulnerable, even as we seek more partners to increase the beneficiaries.
“The challenges have been lack of digital devices, data bundles, and connectivity. We hope to get partners to address this,” he said.
Macharia said they have equipped all their candidates’ classes with tablets and enough data bundles to keep them connected to E-Learning.
The Kenswed Hospital offers healthcare services at a subsidised rate, with many services free for the vulnerable and young mothers.
Macharia said that he was motivated by a strong desire to help alleviate poverty and bring changes through education; a tool he says changed his life.
“I had a strong conviction that education was the key to a better life, the only tool for poverty eradication.
“The struggle to get education due to lack of school fees was enough to drive me to work hard, change my life and get the opportunity to someday be of help to others,” recalls Macharia.
What is Macharia’s dream?
“It has been a journey and still work in progress. Although I have realised some of my dreams, I find myself dreaming again, I’m keeping on,” he added.
“We do follow all our alumni closely,” said Macharia, a father of two who is married to former World Cross Country junior champion Veronica Nyaruai.
He said that Kenya has a very youthful population and if we want to make big strides in the developing our society both socially and economically, we have to empower these youth.
Macharia, who is the winner of seven Bogota Half Marathon titles, urges young Kenyans not to feel sorry for themselves but be industrious and work hard.
“They only need the opportunity to unleash their potential to better their lives, their families and communities.
“Män Zelmerlow, through ZBF, seeks to give these youth the much-needed opportunity, which translates to an empowered nation. The trickling effect of empowering one youth is just tremendous.”
Macharia may have retired from athletics but still trains daily to keep fit for competitions.
“Most races that I won through the years often invite me for appearance and competitive running. We are in the plan of starting a 10km road race in Colombia in support of my charity work.”
Macharia’s biggest burden is to feed over 100 athletes and 10 families in view of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“My Boss, Luis Posso (Possosports ) has been very kind. He has supported me in feeding the athletes.
“Every month I buy them foodstuffs enough to support them for the entire period. I hope to sustain this support for the entire disruption occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The success behind Macharia is Veronica Nyaruai, his greatest supporter in a winning team.
“She values family more than her running career and took time off to start our family which makes me feel indebted to her,” said Macharia.
“God has been gracious to us, blessed us with adorable kids, Nick and Vicky, who understand our nature of the job and value the charity work we do. In line with this, I wouldn’t forget my parents and siblings who have remained a very strong pillar to us,” he said.
“Charity work is not easy, you face challenges all the time.
“I think we value and admire life holistic, we balance between running and other facets of life which make it spicy.
“We are sportspeople, parents, businesspeople, and social beings. Our relationship is of friendship and of a husband/wife.
His advises to your people is: “It is never too late… education should be a lifelong experience not limited by age.
“Nowadays E-Learning is an enabler, you can learn even from home or a training camp.
“I started running after my form four and took me 10 years to go back to school for my undergraduate and later postgraduate. We are all young to get an education.
“We sportsmen and women get money while still very young, I think I made my first million at 21 years. Unfortunately, we also retire very early mostly 32-35 years unless one is super disciplined.
“Education keeps one grounded and gives one exposure to have a better view and understanding of the world and people.
“One gets to appreciate the challenges faced by humanity which spurs a state of soul searching to look for one’s purpose in life. And realisation of this purpose gives you a reason to live.
“Waking up every day to work can be meaningless if you don’t have a reason or a drive. Education enlightens us to appreciate life from an informed perspective.”
On his three lives of athletics, coaching, businessman, philanthropist, Maharia summarises thus: “As an athlete, I have accomplished much and changed my life in the process having been born poor.
“However I don’t count myself as one of the talented athletes, mine was making sacrifices and hard work to make it. It was the only option I had. I am forever grateful to God who has remained my rock, my fortress, and my provider.
‘’I have been coaching since I was young, started coaching my peers. I think my strength is in life coaching rather than athletics coach.
“Most of my presentation to athletes has been about life, athletics being a facilitator of a good life. I however have produced world beaters in athletics as a coach, having been mentored by John Mwithiga (“warm-up”).
“On my businesses, all my business is inspired by the desire to better humanity and provide opportunities for the youth. That’s the reason I am in clean energy, micro-lending, and technology.
“Philanthropist? I feel intimidated by the term. I feel I’m doing very little compared to the likes of Bill Gates, Strive Masiyiwa and other great men and women.
“I like seeing myself as a member of a team championing for the well-being of humanity in my own small ways. It’s a purpose I intend to pursue all the days of my life because God has given me that conviction.
“It is God who facilitates all that my heart desires.’’