They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As Sorrell Walsh stood poised watching the sunrise over the streets of Makeni in Sierra Leone, in the early morning of 26th May 2016, this was especially true.
There are a staggering 100 million street children in the world today, many of whom face violence and danger, and must work just to afford to eat. Street Child, a UK charity established in 2008, aims to create educational opportunity for these children, some of the world’s most vulnerable. Street Child is providing a vital lifeline for these children left behind by conflict, crisis and poverty.
This year, Sorrell, along with 600 other runners, will once again meander 26.2 miles through small villages lined with spectators. Dubbed “the worlds craziest and most worthwhile marathon,” by Runners World, on the 28th May 2017 she will again line up to face the hottest race of her life. Launched in 2012, The Sierra Leone Marathon is a unique event in that everybody that travels to participate is united in a common fundraising goal: to support the projects of Street Child UK.
We caught up with Sorrell before she ventures back to Makeni to hear how Street Child are working to ensure that every stride of the Sierra Leone Marathon is one step closer to a better future.
How did you first get involved with Street Child?
The charity got in touch last year to talk about the marathon and the work that they do. Really, it was a whole new world to me and one I’m extremely grateful for being introduced to. I’d never necessarily seen the end result of fundraising in such a real way and I feel fortunate to have witnessed it. Seeing things first hand makes the concept of enacting change appear so much more achievable.
What made you sign up for Sierra Leone Marathon?
The marathon itself was created by Street Child so essentially it’s fuelled by and for charity, that in itself is pretty special. I have to admit at first I had my worries about running in humidity and 35° heat, yet it didn’t take long to slide on by that one after finding some perspective. The beauty of this race and the experience as a whole is that it’s really not about you or the western world we live in, you’re running for something much more than that.
Was it what you expected?
If I’m honest it was much more than what I could’ve imagined. I had never experienced that way of life or landscape and to run through each while being cheered on by the local people, families, their children that our funds would be helping was incredible. You start really early in the morning too so you get to run alongside the country as it wakes up. One of my favourite stretches was running through a field with an unfazed farmer just casually cracking on with his harvest.
Did you volunteer with any of the projects during your trip? Could you tell us about the experience?
The marathon is the cherry on top of the trip, yet the main body of the experience is visiting projects that have been put into place by Street Child. We didn’t volunteer but we drove out to visit schools to talk and meet the children who had benefited from their schemes, in both urban and rural areas. We also met those who are part of their Family Business Scheme, whereby families are given a grant to get a business off the ground and fund them long term.
What was your favourite memory or moment overall of the Sierra Leone Marathon?
That’s a hard question to answer! If I had to choose, my most precious memory would be in the final half a mile of the race. One of the local boys, called Papyoa, started to run alongside me, slowly but surely we were joined with about ten other children. I ended up running the final stretch with him and we crossed the finish line holding hands. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t expecting the blubbering mess clutching on to him afterwards but it meant so much to share that with him.
How would you sum it up for someone who hasn’t been?
Like nothing else. Admittedly I’d never been to Africa and this was my first experience of being completely immersed in a culture so far removed from my own, but I think it has the potential to change anyone’s perspective. On the final few days we also got to play with the local kids and take part in workshops led by local speakers and teachers. We can learn a lot from people who live life with its true essence, the things we could potentially focus more on; kindness, people, gratitude.
What are you looking forward to this time round?
Again, a tough one to answer. I just can’t wait to be there really and learn more from the Sierra Leoneans. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the projects have changed since last year too. This time around a few friends will be joining me so it will be so nice to witness their first experience of it all as well as getting to explore it all again for a second time around.
We’d like to thank Sorrell for taking the time to talk with us, and wish her the best of luck as she embarks to run through the streets of Sierra Leone at the end of the month. If you want to find out more information about the Sierra Leone Marathon and how you take part visit Street Child UK.
Credits to photographer: Chris Parkes
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