Running on Her Own Two Feet

  |   Posted: August 01, 2020

When Clenzeensia was a young child, even the dream of going to school seemed out of reach. But God sent the support she needed to become a star athlete with an education and so much more.

Clenzeensia is standing on a grass field next to a chain link fence

The region of Singida in Tanzania has long been known for its large fields of sunflowers. But now it has another claim to fame: champion runner Clenzeensia, a 20-year-old who has been in Compassion’s program since age 4.

But when Clenzeensia was a toddler, her mother saw little reason to hope that her daughter could ever go to school, let alone become a star athlete. After Clenzeensia’s parents separated, she and her four older siblings moved into their aunt’s two-room home along with their mother. Every day, Clenzeensia’s mother would try to earn an income by selling charcoal beside the road. If she ever got more than three customers, it was a good day. Some days she got no customers. The charcoal business was not providing enough income for school, food, clothing and rent. On at least one day every week, the family had no food to eat.

Clenzeensia runs past the camera

Meanwhile, Clenzeensia was approaching the age when Tanzanian children start school. Her mom didn’t have the money for any more children’s school fees, so she accepted the fact that Clenzeensia would have to wait until one of the older children graduated.

Then their mom heard about a program at a local church that helped children who live in poverty. When Clenzeensia joined Compassion’s program, it eased many of the family’s burdens.

“The center paid for my school fees, gave me a school uniform and, when we did not have anything to eat, they gave us food,” says Clenzeensia.

When you made the choice to selflessly give to Compassion, you put children’s dreams within their reach. In addition to the chance to receive an education and stop going to bed hungry, the program gave Clenzeensia a chance to pursue athletics. By the time she was 10, she had become passionate about running. She took part in a competition organized by Compassion Tanzania for all the registered children in the country.

Clenzeensia's medal from running competitions

“I was 10 years old when I participated in that competition, and it was my first competition. I was competing with girls a little bit older than me, and I lost,” recalls Clenzeensia. “I remember I was really sad — I did not like the feeling of losing and cried almost the whole day.”

After her first loss, Clenzeensia went home determined to win the next competition.

“My aunt bought me my first pair of running shoes. They were pink. She also came to every competition that I was in,” Clenzeensia says. “She and my sister Halima were always cheering for me.”

Clenzeensia ran in every competition she could, and she got a spot on the podium every time. The Compassion center where she was registered was very involved in her development as an athlete.

“As a center, we want our kids to know that they can make a career out of what they love to do,” says Elibariki Alute, coordinator of the center that receives much-needed support from gifts like yours. “We noticed her interest in athletics, and we made sure we supported her by taking her to all the competitions that she wanted to take part in.”

In the years since, Clenzeensia lost her biggest supporter when her aunt died. But the young athlete’s determination has grown stronger. She tried out for the Olympic Summer Games, which were originally scheduled for 2020 but have since been postponed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, Clenseensia remains determined to pursue her Olympic dreams.