Why you should be supporting the only major sporting event in Sierra Leone

It’s safe to say that for a first-time marathoner, Sierra Leone wouldn’t be your first destination choice. The climate (that some would compare with the Caribbean) would make any novice runner pause to re-think if this is the best place to undertake a physical challenge at this level.

The marathon route leads you through long stretches of lush, green tropical jungles and palm trees towering over the orange clay roads below, yet temperatures are almost always high (30 degrees Celsius and 90% humidity on an average day) and for most runners, it’s the first time they’re visiting the country. None of this stopped Louise, our product manager, from signing up to run this race this year.

Back in 2008, Tom Dannatt, CEO and founder of Street Child, was working in financial recruitment and decided that he wanted to do something more meaningful in the world. He travelled to Sierra Leone and saw that there were many children out of school and decided then to start a project to help 100 kids receive an education. An avid runner himself, Tom combined his passion with his purpose and the Sierra Leone Marathon was born.

Almost eleven years of marathons later, they’ve given the gift of education to more than 200,000 children, building schools and training teachers along the way. Where few people make it to Sierra Leone because of its troubled history, the marathon is a way to raise money for the children and help spread the word that it is a safe, beautiful destination.

You realise how big an impact you can have on others’ lives without sacrificing more than the cost of lunch from Pret.

Louise set out to visit Sierra Leone this year and while researching her travels came across the marathon. “I heard about Street Child’s marathon and the way it helped revive the tourism industry after the decade-long civil war and then again once it had recovered from Ebola. Doing this race made complete sense to me and seemed to be the perfect way to visit the country; challenge myself, raise money for an incredible charity and help spread the word that it is very much open to travelers,”she recalls. We talked with Carol, Head of Marketing at Street Child, to get more information about the race day and how it’s supporting the local community in Sierra Leone.

Running is, in a sense, rebooting the level of tourism that Sierra Leonne has seen in previous years. Why do you think that is?

A lot of people haven’t even heard of Sierra Leone so even at the simplest level, we are creating awareness of the country.  It’s really akin to a Caribbean island in how tropical it is and its beaches are stunning and totally unspoilt. Sierra Leone has had a tough time in the past and so those who have heard of it can have a sense that it is ‘dangerous’ which simply isn’t true.

It seems like there is so much support from the local villages and families that live there. What about this particular event makes them show up for the race? Is this their “super bowl”?

This is the ONLY major sporting event that happens in the whole of Sierra Leone!  Local running groups from Freetown make the 3-hour journey to take part.  Loads of local runners take part in the 5k race because they want the honour of having a Sierra Leone Marathon t-shirt. It is well supported because many of the villages will have benefitted from the work that Street Child does and so the community want to show their gratitude.

What’s been one moment where you knew what you were doing were changing the lives of these children forever?

I visited Sierra Leone last May and was overwhelmed by the response of the children and parents alike who have benefitted from Street Child directly. My husband joined me and was so moved by the experience that this year he is running the marathon (his first ever!).

Why should people support this race?

It is literally a life-changing experience – for both the runners and for the beneficiaries of the fundraising.  Seeing how much impact your fundraising can have in a country that is so different from home gives you a new perspective on life.  And for the beneficiaries, the £1000 (or hopefully more!) that each runner raises, is enough to transform education in their community which will give them a chance to build a better life for them and their future families.  

If there’s one thing that we can say for sure, Louise and the others that venture to this incredibly beautiful country this year will achieve a massive sense of achievement and life-long friendships as they raise one hand high in the air, wave, and pass the final stretch of crowds into the finish line.

Help Louise Reach Her Goal

Under the UK Aid Match scheme, all money raised before 21st February is doubled by the UK Government. LET’S MAKE A DIFFERENCE TOGETHER.