World Challenge Marathon runner Nontu Mghabi outside the completed classrooms at Khiphinkumzi Primary School in Mtubatuba.
World Challenge Marathon runner Nontu Mghabi outside the completed classrooms at Khiphinkumzi Primary School in Mtubatuba.

Marathon runner sponsors classrooms, uniforms

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Feb 27, 2021

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Durban - Zululand's Nontu Mghabi ran seven marathons in seven days across seven continents in the epic World Marathon Challenge in February last year - her goal being to raise enough funds to build classrooms for children at Khiphinkumzi Primary School in Dukuduku reserve in Mtubatuba.

Her dream was realised last week with the official opening of five new classrooms, complete with desks, chairs and blackboards, as well as 300 full uniforms and school shoes waiting on the desks for children who needed them.

Gift-wrapped uniforms on new desks were waiting for pupils when they arrived at school

Khiphinkumzi Primary School principal, Nonhlanhla Shongwe, said the children, their families and parents were “very, very happy” with the new furnished classrooms and uniforms.

“We had 650 pupils and 108 Grade 4 pupils in one class last year. Now we can split the children and also be able to do social distancing. Some of the children were wearing torn and tatty uniforms and now they have top to toe uniforms, including very strong shoes, they feel so good. Many parents are unemployed and it's difficult financially. This week, we have had many visitors to the school to see the new classes.“

Competing in the World Marathon Challenge in Antarctica, Zululand’s Nontu Mghabi feels the icy winds.

Mghabi’s new goal is to provide flush toilets for the children and to raise those funds, her sights are set on running the 250km ultramarathon, Marathon Des Sables. Also known as the Sahara Marathon, it is run in October over seven days starting in Morocco.

Mghabi, who is the HR general manager at Richards Bay Coal Terminal, said a highlight was her visit to the school on completion of the project, ahead of schools opening and the official ceremony last Friday.

On the South American leg of the World Marathon Challenge in Fort Aleza, Brazil, Nontu Mghabi pushes through a tough moment.

“Seeing the classrooms which had actually been built, it felt so special, I was overcome. It was humbling,” she said this week.

From the moment in 2019 when she came up with the idea of building classrooms by running seven marathons in a row around the world, it has been a journey of perseverance, inner strength and lots of energy.

“The school had some old classrooms, as well as using park homes which were unstable. Some of the classes had more than 100 pupils. My whole objective was to improve the learning experience.”

Mghabi said her primary challenge was sponsors pulling out because of the financial impact of Covid-19. She finally had 10 major sponsors on board for the project.

Nontu Mghabi crosses the finish line of the World Marathon Challenge in Miami, a gruelling race of seven marathons over seven days across seven continents to raise funds for a small rural school outside Mtubatuba.

“I think this project taught me resilience. I spent many nights awake after receiving emails about pull-outs, but it’s amazing because help comes from places you least expect. The very first person to whom I mentioned the idea of this crazy adventure was our CEO, Alan Waller, who immediately committed a contribution of R250 000. That made me feel this is possible, I can do this.”

Mghabi also highlighted the role media had played in helping to raise funds, before and after her competing in the World Marathon Challenge, starting with the Independent on Saturday’s first story when she was training for the challenge, which saw her receiving a sponsored running kit from sports brand Salomon.

In total, she raised R1.7 million, with construction starting in August and completion on February 12.

Marathon runner Nontu Mghabi at the launch of the new, furnished classrooms at Khiphinkumzi Primary School

Apart from raising funds and building classrooms in the last year, Mghabi was busy with a number of other fundraising efforts. She competed in a 45km virtual run to raise money to feed children during lockdown.

“In this area we have many child-headed households or children who live with their grannies and they depend on the meals at school which was closed, so they were going hungry. South Africans really have good hearts and I managed to raise enough to buy 100 food parcels worth R1000 each.” She also took part in another lockdown project to supply 5000 masks for those who could not afford to buy one.

Having trained for the World Marathon Challenge with Comrades multi-gold medallist, Prodigal Khumalo, Mghabi also helped to raise funds during lockdown to assist Khumalo’s Orcas Running Academy, saying: “I think when you run for a cause, you get inspiration. Prodigal held a 100km run on January 31 and I managed to run 90kms in under nine hours (8.47).”

For the Sahara Marathon in October, she has continued to train, completing about 400km a month. Not a fan of pit latrines, Mghabi highlighted her goal was to provide flush toilets for the children.

“Obviously with Covid, I can never be sure the Marathon Des Sables will go ahead, but for now the race director has said it is on.

“This marathon is done over seven days and we have to run through the dunes and will be carrying everything - clothes, food and sleeping bag. I think it's going to be hard work.”

The Independent on Saturday

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