Update July 2022 – I have now been and run my Sierra Leone marathon and I can confirm that not only did I do it, but I loved it! It is quite possibly the craziest marathon in the world, and you can read all about how I got on here!
For someone who has always been pretty vocal about how much I hate running it is not surprising that people look at me with wonder when I say I have entered a marathon. Even I’m surprised since I’ve always been adamant that I have no intention of doing one! However, the “wow, you’re really going to run for 42km!” incredulous comment is always followed by “But why Sierra Leone? Is there not somewhere closer?”.
The truth of the matter is that I am not running 42km for the fun of it. In fact, if it wasn’t for a good cause I wouldn’t be running it at all!
A change of heart
Travelling through Cambodia changed me in ways I never expected it to. I was shocked to learn about the Khmer Rouge regime, recent history I knew nothing about. I was also completely unaware of the unexploded ordinance problem that is still being tackled 40 years after the end of the Vietnamese War. But more than anything, I was humbled by the people I met. The generosity of those who had nothing was astounding, their warmth and friendliness something that is remarked about in every tourist brochure. But really, what stuck with me was their attitude.
I have suffered from depression on and off over the years and I have been through some pretty gloomy periods. I have always blamed events in my childhood for these feelings, yet, seeing the kids in Cambodia, playing in the street with imaginary weapons, with no shoes on and dirty clothes I realised just how lucky I have been. Yes, my childhood was far from perfect, but I had food, I had access to clean water, I had a bed, a house, clothes, shoes, a great education and the building blocks that have allowed me to be whoever I want to be as an adult.
These kids do not have that luxury. Their tiny wooden homes, merely larger than my living room, house the parents, the grandparents and all their siblings. Many children must forgo their education so they can work to contribute to the household. Food is scarce, access to clean water even rarer, and when it comes to new clothes and toys, well… they are just for the upper echelon. Yet, despite having so little, they aren’t moping about feeling sorry for themselves. No! They make the most of what they have and share what little they have.
The moment of realisation
I’ve always known “I want to make a difference” but it wasn’t until I got back from Cambodia that I realised what that meant. Yes, of course I want to have a positive impact on everyone, but I REALLY want to have a positive impact where it is most needed. I want to be part of the solution when it comes to eradicating world poverty. It sounds like a tall order, but I believe that my actions, when united with everyone else’s can make a significant difference in this world.
Of course, I have thought about chucking it all in and going to a far-fetched country to work with a charity, but that isn’t realistic. There is still plenty I can do whilst not destroying my marriage, giving up my dog, quitting my job or selling my house. In fact, there are two specific ways I can definitely make a difference:
1. By helping the growth of sustainable tourism in developing countries. This is what my blog is about, telling the stories of the places I visit. All I need to do is visit the places that need the visitors and then let the world know about them through this blog.
2. By doing crazy challenges that warrant donations that are then put to a good cause.
The Sierra Leone Marathon
The Sierra Leone Marathon certainly classifies in my eyes as a crazy challenge, even for seasoned marathoners. But when you consider that I’m starting from couch potato it is HUGE! Over the next 6 months I will be doing a “Couch to 42km” program which will need to involve losing at least 3 stone (yes, embarrassingly that is how overweight I am!). And if you don’t feel that is enough of a challenge, then add 30 degree heat and 90% humidity. And if that isn’t enough then add in the mosquito bites, the certainty that I will get travellers trots, the risk of cholera and Lassar Fever, the malaria tablets, and the yellow fever and rabies injections. And if that isn’t enough then I can only assume you want me dead!
But still, why Sierra Leone, surely there are marathons in other hot countries?
What drew me to Sierra Leone was twofold. Firstly the charity that is organising it, Street Child. And secondly the fact that as part of my marathon I will get to explore a country that meets the exact criteria I want for my blogs. A country that having been left devastated by a decade of civil war (have you watched Blood Diamond?) was then floored again by Ebola. The tourism trade is still recovering, and I hope that through my blog I will inspire other intrepid travellers to visit and explore further afield than the international hotel resorts that line the beach fronts.
So what does Street Child do?
Street Child was born after Tom Dannatt travelled to Sierra Leone in 2008. He was so shocked by the poverty he encountered that he was inspired to act by pledging to find 100 street connected children (i.e. living alone, out of school and with no hope for the future) and helping them back into a family and school.
They have certainly surpassed their initial pledge and have now helped over 250,000 children get an education in some of the toughest countries in the world (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and of course Sierra Leone amongst others).
Street Child believes (as do I) that every kid deserves an education and that achieving universal basic education is the largest step we can take in eradicating poverty globally. They provide psycho-social support, quality education and family business support whilst at the same time finding these kids a secure home, all of which ensures a much brighter future for the poorest kids of Sierra Leone.
If you don’t think my challenge is crazy enough to be worthy of a donation then surely the work Street Child do is!
What will I be doing in Sierra Leone?
Aside from running (obviously), I will also be spending time getting to know the country and the work that Street Child does. We will be travelling through Sierra Leone’s lush green landscapes to visit some of Street Childs most remote projects so we can get an understanding of the challenges that children living in rural communities face whilst learning about the work they do building schools and teaching teachers.
We will get involved in the hustle and bustle of towns and cities to see the businesses they have helped set up to allow families to support their children’s education. We will also get a chance to learn from the team on the ground about how they identify the kids that need help and what steps they take to deliver it.
Finally, we will learn about their efforts into creating equal opportunities for girls (who’s need for education is perceived as being inferior) and those who have a disability.
I’m truly looking forward to learning everything there is to know and I hope to have some great tales to share with you on my return. You never know! Maybe you will enjoy it enough that you add Sierra Leone to your travel list!
Whether you do it because you like to see me suffer, or whether you do it because like me, you want to help give these kids an opportunity to a better life, if you can spare some money, even if it is just £1, please donate. It will make a huge difference to someone that really needs it!
You can donate by clicking here or on the link below. Please don’t forget to Gift Aid.
I will be posting regular updates on my page to let you know how my training is going so feel free to check in!