Last week, while most of Botswana went about its business, Y Care Trust chairman, 48-year-old Modise Koofhethile ran 407 kilometres from Gakhibana to Jwaneng on a mission to fight diabetes and cancer. Back in Gaborone, he sat down with Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI
The facts and figures are awe-inspiring. Twenty villages covered over six days, with 407.85 kilometres run throughout. At least 1,500 people were reached in the campaign, with 1,268 tested for diabetes, of whom seven were found positive.
On some days, he covered 50-odd kilometres, on others he covered upwards of 70km. On the last day, Koofhethile left Sekoma at 6.23am and covered the 86.45 kilometres from Sekoma to Jwaneng in 10 hours and 59 seconds.
Now in its second year, the Y Care Charitable Trust Chairman’s Challenge saw Koofhethile run from Francistown to Gaborone last year, covering the 441 kilometres in seven days. This year, funds raised from well wishers will be forwarded to the Diabetes Association of Botswana and the Cancer Association of Botswana (CAB).
“Running in the bush, the hardest part is that you are alone,” he says.
“At times, the police escort is behind, while the support team is way ahead. As the sounds of the vehicles moves further away, you hear the birds whistling, see the sun rise and appreciate the beauty of the country.
“It was a difficult terrain with ups and downs, slopes and others, but that’s the experience.”
While on the road, he came across a baby owl, which allowed him to handle it. Even though the nocturnal birds are culturally a horrible omen, Koofhethile says that day (Wednesday August 3) wound up being his best as the wind blew in his back, propelling him forward as opposed to running against the wind.
With each kilometre, Koofhethile was blown away by the generosity and acceptance of ordinary villagers who welcomed him – a stranger – with open arms into their dikgotla, sacred places of deep cultural significance.
In the six days spent running, Koofhethile passed through villages such as Tsabong, Khisa, Makopong, Kokotsha and Sekoma, before reaching Jwaneng.
“The natural beauty of this country is amazing and the key is the people. Batswana are so receptive. At one of the villages, they even asked me to go and talk to children at school and these children began singing!
“Just that reception in the villages; Batswana celebrating someone that they don’t know.
“You arrive at the kgotla and they inform you about their culture and the ‘rules’ then explain that they will make an exception for you.”
In some areas, villagers dug deep into their pockets to contribute towards the campaign, with P400 raised in an impromptu, voluntary collection at one kgotla.
On his mission, Koofhethile was accompanied by a team comprising four youngsters living with diabetes, two staffers with CAB and two Y Care Trust volunteers.
Along the road, before each village, the team would drive ahead of Koofhethile and contact the village leadership, mobilising the community ahead of his arrival and commencing education and testing activities.
The high impact strategy was effective in getting large numbers of previously untested people to come forward to check for diabetes, while the educational campaign for both diabetes and cancer proved highly illuminating for many.
For many Batswana in the districts of rural Ngwaketse
Similarly, diets and lifestyles that could lessen the risks of catching both diseases are not practised due to low levels of awareness.
“The seven people who were diagnosed with diabetes had no clue that they had it,” says Koofhethile.
“We have since referred them to clinics for further tests. That’s the one thing that satisfies me because people who did not know they had this condition can now get help.
“People who did not understand about cancer now have knowledge and can spread that knowledge to others.
“That is the whole idea; the running is just a side thing.”The labour of love is personal for Koofhethile. His mother is diabetic and has since lost sight in one eye.
“If I had known something back in 2009, I would have worked harder on that. When I found out, it was very late.
“I started the Chairman’s Challenge; the focus was deliberately on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), which are on the rise in Botswana.
“These are really killing our people.”
According to local and international health authorities, NCDs have been sharply rising in Botswana. The growth is partly because greater standards of living, accompanied by sectoral shifts in the economy from agrarian to the services sector, has led to attendant “convenience lifestyles” associated with fast food and sedentarism or a lifestyle of being desk bound.The ignorance or apathy by many at-risk people towards the rising menace of various NCDs, including diabetes and cancer, worries Koofhethile, who believes there is a lot of “taking things for granted”.
“If you look at the growth of diabetes, people are not aware how they can be affected. You have to eat right and exercise, but some people think just because they are slim, they will be fine even without exercising and eating right.
“People don’t understand these diseases properly and they make assumptions such as saying ‘there’s no diabetes or cancer in our family’.
“People need to be educated and I’m hoping what I do through running will create awareness and make people talk about this.”
How you can help
The Chairman Challenge began last week with Modise Koofhethile completing 407 kilometres from Gakhibana to Jwaneng. The grand finale will be a 21km run from Gabane to Airport Junction on Saturday. The public is invited to come welcome him and his team at the Airport Junction at 9,30am. Better still, why not join the last six kilometres of the run from Molapo Crossing to Airport Junction for a small donation of P50?
Send your donations to:
Barclays Bank Botswana
Account Name: Y Care Chairman’s Challenge
Account No: 1467415
Branch Code: 290167
Branch Name: Main Mall
Swift Code: BARCBWGX
Koofhethile and his team acknowledge the support of Botswana Oil, Vivo Energy, Senn Foods, villagers along the route, including the Kgosi who donated a goat and many others. Please keep the support coming to help the Diabetes Association of Botswana and the Cancer Association of Botswana