Marathon world record holder Paul Tergat joined the race to defeat global hunger on Wednesday when he was appointed ‘Ambassador Against Hunger' by James T.Morris, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.
Tergat, who received food aid as an eight-year-old school child in Kenya's Rift Valley, will use the high-profile platform of international athletics to raise awareness of WFP's school feeding programme.
"Paul is a natural advocate for WFP," said Morris, at a press conference hosted by Italy's Olympic Committee (CONI) in Rome.
"Few people are better qualified to explain how food aid can transform the lives of the world's 300 million chronically hungry children. It is a wonderful thing when people like Paul dedicate a part of their lives to help give kids a chance. "
Tergat is currently the world's fastest man over 26 miles, but as a hungry child in the drought- and poverty-ridden district of Baringo, Kenya's marathon man struggled to make the three-mile trek to school.
Paul's life changed in 1977, when WFP started distributing free school lunches at his Riwo Primary School.
"Without food, it was very difficult to walk to school, let alone concentrate on our studies. WFP's lunches made it easier for us to make the most of our education," said Tergat. "A full meal was also the perfect incentive to keep us in the classroom."
For 30 years, WFP school feeding programmes have kept generations of children globally coming back for more. For a child suffering from hunger, going to school is not important; having enough food to eat is. Research shows that school feeding dramatically increases school attendance and boosts performance in the classroom.
In 2002, WFP fed 15.6 million children in 64 countries; the Agency aims to reach 32 million children by the end of 2005 and 50 million by 2007. In the short-term, however, WFP's school feeding programmes are plagued by funding shortages, in particular, in Chad, Colombia, Haiti and Gambia.
Even the Kenyan school feeding programme, from which Paul benefited, has been under constant threat.. It has taken a generous contribution from the Kenyan government and the addition of limited WFP multilateral funds to secure the programme for 2005.
"We hope that Paul's new status as WFP Ambassador, a great honour for him and his country, will put the threat to school feeding on the international agenda," said Bruce Misoga Madete, Kenya's Ambassador to Italy and a guest at Wednesday's ceremony.
Tergat joins former US Senator George McGovern, and Cape Verdian singer Cesaria Evora as WFP Ambassadors. Other personalities, who are partnering with the world's largest humanitarian organisation, include former Rugby World Cup winners David Kirk and Nick Farr-Jones, actor Sean Connery, Japanese jazz artist Keiko Matsui and Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke.
"School children around the world must have the opportunity to pursue their dream," said Tergat.
Last September in Berlin, Tergat, aged 34, ran himself into the record books by becoming the first man to run the Marathon in less than two hours five minutes. In the process, he sliced a remarkable 43 seconds off the previous world best time.
The 34-year-old runner is currently in training for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in Greece, historic home of the Marathon, where this summer he hopes to crown his outstanding career by winning a gold medal. His next marathon will be in London on April 18.
Video footage and photographic stills of Paul Tergat visiting WFP school feeding programmes and crossing the finish line in his world record-breaking Berlin marathon run are available on request.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
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