Last year, the Tegla Loroupe Foundation, named after the famous Kenyan Olympian and marathon runner held athletic trials at Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. Five runners, all refugees from South Sudan, were brought to Nairobi, where they trained with Tegla Loroupe herself. Eventually the five runners were picked to be a part of the ten person refugee team put together by the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations Refugee Agency for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
James Nyang Chienjiek, a cattle herder, was thirteen when he fled South Sudan for Kenya in 2001, fearful of being kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier. While almost totally self-reliant after the death of his father two years prior, Chienjiek knew it was no longer safe for him at home and so after a harrowing year long journey, reached Kakuma, where he lived until that fateful Tegla Loroupe Foundation trial. Paulo Amotun Lokoro also worked as a cattle herder in South Sudan until 2004, when his parents left South Sudan because of the war, leaving Lokoro with an uncle, until he too, at twelve years old, was forced to leave, eventually reuniting with his mother at Kakuma and participating in the Tegla Loroupe Foundation trials.
Much like Lokoro, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith was separated from parents as a child, but unlike Lokoro she never saw them again when she fled South Sudan at six years old. After settling at Kakuma in 2002, a year after she left her home, Lohalith’s speed and drive earned her a spot with the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. Lohalith hopes that competing in the Olympics may help her in her search for her parents. The other half of the refugee’s female runners, Rose Nathike Lokonyen was ten years old when her parents brought her and her siblings to Kenya to escape the violence in South Sudan. While Lokonyen’s parents returned to South Sudan in 2008, she stayed at Kakuma and discovered a passion for running that drove her to work hard and do well in the Tegla Loroupe Foundation trials. She hopes to use her new status as an Olympian to promote peace. Finally, In 2005, ten year old Yiech Pur Biel left his home in Nasir, South Sudan for Kakuma in order to avoid the civil war ripping his country apart. Once reaching Kakuma, his love of running helped give him, he states, a sense of belonging.
Also joining the refugee team, who will march under the Olympic flag, are swimmers Rami Anis and Yusra Mardini from Syria, athlete Yonas Kinde from Ethiopia, and judokas Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa Mabika from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said it best when he unveiled the team's creation, declaring he wanted the team to “send a message of hope to all the refugees of the world”, proving that through hard work and determination, even a refugee may rise above the violence and horror they had been inundated in to make something of themselves.