Hundreds of runners brave 30C heat for Sierra Leone marathon in aid of Street Child

·5-min read
 (Street Child / Josta Hopps)
(Street Child / Josta Hopps)

It’s 6am and still dark when runners cross the start line at Wusum Stadium in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone, for what promises to be an eventful day.

By the time the sun rises, and the heat really starts to turn up, hundreds of runners are already well on their way to completing the physically intense 26.2-mile marathon course.

Around 800 people – including around 70 international runners – travelled to Makeni to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for Street Child, a UK-based charity that helps the country’s poorest children through education.

The charity, which started work in the country in 2008, has now built more than 700 schools in some of the most remote areas of Sierra Leone, and works with local communities to move out of poverty.

The intense 30C heat and almost 90 per cent humidity makes the race one of a kind – even more so considering this year is the race’s tenth anniversary, a proud achievement for the charity’s founder, Tom Dannatt, who described the event as an “explosion of life and colour”.

Starting from the centre of Makeni, Sierra Leone’s third largest city, the route loops around towns and villages, taking you along dirt tracks and through the jungle, with local children lining the streets and running along with participants to cheer them on.

For those less daring, there are also 5km, 10km and half marathon races, which are no less gruelling thanks to the relentless heat.

The full marathon, which took place on Sunday, was won by Osman Charley, who crossed the finish line in two hours and 47 minutes, while first place in the half-marathon went to Augustine Sheik Momoh, who won the title in one hour and nine minutes.

Osman Charley won the marathon with a time of 2.47 (Street Child / Camille Liu Nock)
Osman Charley won the marathon with a time of 2.47 (Street Child / Camille Liu Nock)

Upon finishing, he said he was “really proud that Street Child are doing this job to remove children from the street”.

A British runner, Alex Randerson, 27, from Hull, who ran the full marathon in three hours and 28 minutes, said the race had an “amazing atmosphere”.

“The highlight for me was when we went onto the dirt tracks, in the jungle and you could see all the villages and the kids were running with you. It was the hardest part but it got you through, just thinking what a good cause,” he said.

For many international runners, the visit to Sierra Leone is also a chance to see the work that Street Child does first hand.

This includes visits to rural communities in some of the most remote parts of Sierra Leone, to visit schools where the charity has made an impact to help children stay in school, safe and learning.

Hundreds of people travelled to Makeni to take part in the races (Josta Hopps)
Hundreds of people travelled to Makeni to take part in the races (Josta Hopps)

Mr Randerson continued: “To see what a huge impact Street Child has had on Sierra Lone, it’s been really inspiring.

“Finishing the run is quite emotional really, to think that me and my friend have come from the UK, we’ve raised enough to send 120 kids to school for a year, and when I was running around and when it was hard, that was something that really made me get to the finish line.”

British high commissioner Lisa Chesney ran the 5km race and said she would be “coming back for more next year”.

She told the Standard: “The atmosphere is pretty electric, so this has been the first time in a couple of years that Street Child has been able to host this marathon.

“You’ve got people from all over the world, a great turnout from Britain and people from all the corners of Sierra Leone as well. This is a fantastic way to show off the best of what Sierra Leone’s got to offer.

“People who are coming from far away are going to see beautiful countryside from here around Makeni, they’re going to visit the beaches and wider Sierra Leone, they’re going to take back that story of what Sierra Leone is today, which is not Ebola or conflict.

Runners at the finishing line (Josta Hopps)
Runners at the finishing line (Josta Hopps)

“The other thing that’s really important is the work that Street Child are doing. It means that children can be safe in school and learning, and children that don’t have opportunities get opportunities.”

One VIP among race participants was the ex-president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, whose presence attracted a large crowd of cheering spectators, many of whom wanted to walk alongside him.

After walking the 10km, he said: “The race has been very fantastic and I’m quite impressed with the turnout, especially of international runners.

“I have been involved with it since it started and I always enjoy doing it. It’s a cause that is worthy of support because it is focusing on providing support to children that are disadvantaged, need help, education and health support”.

Meanwhile, Hamid James Kamala, from Makeni and who works for Street Child, ran the 5km race. He said the atmosphere was “great” because everyone “ran together”.

He added: “The race means a lot, and it also means a lot to this community because it helps Makeni to be exposed and people to learn more about Makeni.

“We want people to come so that they feel safe. You can come and explore and get to know Makeni”.

Alain Buffing, 34, from Amsterdam, said his favourite part of the race was running with a group of 60 children running alongside him.

“The most challenging bit is the humidity, so from the moment we started it was six in the morning and sweat was already pouring.”

Mr Buffing said the thing he had most enjoyed about his visit was the hospitality of the people.

“Everybody constantly smiles and are interested to know where you’re from. When you say you are going to Sierra Leone, people have this prejudice about the country, people say it’s unsafe.

“I never felt unsafe any time. I’ve always felt it was a very hospitable experience, I’ve felt very welcome. I would definitely come back and encourage everybody to come here.”

To support Street Child or found out more please visit street-child.org

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