When it comes to the world’s most obscure marathons, Sierra Leone is pretty high up on the list. Probably best known for the movie Blood Diamond, set against the backdrop of the country’s brutal civil war, or more recently the Ebola crisis which spilled over from neighbouring Liberia.
I’ve always had an interest in the obscure and the exotic. I spent a part of my childhood growing up in communist era Algeria, holidayed in East Germany as a teenager, and explored Poland during my sixth form days when friends were partying in Magaluf. So, whilst I was busy applying for the Chicago and New York (to add some variety to running London every year) I also began looking into marathons in Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Guatemala and Sierra Leone.
As part of my research I joined a presentation from the Unicef backed StreetChild organisation, who started work in Sierra Leone in 2008. Their annual marathon event lies at the heart of awareness driving and fundraising activity, which in turn supports education for tens of thousands of children and orphans otherwise trapped in a vicious spiral of illiteracy and poverty. As well as participating in the country’s only marathon, visiting runners have the opportunity to visit rural schools and urban workshops where the charity works with local partners to make a real and lasting difference.
Fortunately the civil war ended in 2002, although it left Sierra Leone as the poorest country on earth. A period of rapid growth followed, making it the world’s second fastest growing economy for a number of years, and the country was certified free from Ebola by the WHO in January 2016 (I will be honest, last year was too soon for me). Better read students of African history may also know Sierra Leone as a cradle of modern liberty; a pioneering colony of freed British slaves (hence the capital, Freetown) which introduced voting for women and blacks from the 1790s – well over a hundred years before the UK.
What really resonated with me was that this was a true underdog story. StreetChild started in Sierra Leone for the very reason that it was the poorest yet also the most resilient nation on earth. Whilst it’s not possible to overstate the complexity of post-colonial African history, and the negative as well as positive role of foreign aid and intervention, there is reason for hope.
I couldn’t imagine my own children not having the benefit of education, living, working and surviving on the streets. The focus of StreetChild on supporting teachers, families and children without educational prospects will for certain help build a foundation for today’s and future generations to better create their own, brighter future. The nation has rebuilt most of the 1,800 schools destroyed in the civil war, but families dependent on agriculture need help to send their children (in particular, girls) to school, and those in the towns (in particular, women) need support in establishing their own businesses.
Yes I am running Sierra Leone because of my love for the exotic, because it will make for a great story and conversation piece (whether good or bad), but also because I hope to make some sort of positive difference by taking part. Running 30,000 steps to help raise £1,000 for StreetChild will secure a year’s education for over 30 children and help me be the change I want to be.
Thanks for reading! If any of you want to support me then any pledges before February 15th will be doubled by the UK Government under the current UK Aid policy. If you fancy joining me, and 200 other runners in Sierra Leone then drop me a message! To donate, please follow the link here: