In June 2012 I will be taking my wife and two young children to
a country which, not so long ago, was one of the most dangerous
places on earth.
You may wonder why I would do this; to which the answer would
be, to watch me run a half marathon, of course!
Some of our participants have
already begun their marathon training in Makeni!
The Kiln Sierra Leone Marathon is the first ever marathon race
in Sierra Leone, organised by a small UK charity, Street Child of Sierra
Leone (Street Child).
When we talk to prospective runners about the marathon and where
it will take place, one of the first questions we often get is:
Is it safe? People
generally have heard of Sierra Leone and not for positive
reasons:civil war, child soldiers, blood diamonds, amputees, the
list of negative aspects goes on…
It's unfortunate that, 10 years after this bloody civil war
ended, Sierra Leone is still struggling to dispel the image that
seems to be imprinted in the mind of most westerners.
Not what you would typically
think of when someone says Sierra Leone...
I have travelled regularly to Sierra Leone but I will never
forget my first trip, less than two year ago. I had a strong
emotional reaction to the reality of life at the edge of human
existence, and the very need that people have for basic stuff:
clean water, basic health care and education.
I was very impressed by the incredible passion of the social
workers at HANCi,
our local partner organisation. As well as the positive
attitude and determination of the people, the love the kids have
for going to school.
I loved the wonderful simplicity of life; for example the way
people treat nature, as a place of dwelling rather than just
another resource for economic growth. I realized: There are a lot
of things that can be improved in Sierra Leone, and there are
things we can learn from Africans, things that we may have slightly
wrong in the western world.
I remember so well the first trip to Tambakha, a place so
remote, so poor, so completely different, and yet with so much
potential. If only kids would learn basic literacy, numeracy and
English. Consequently, Tambakha is the region where Street Child in
the last 18 months have built 15 schools, and are supporting more
than 2000 children in education.
One of the schools Street Child have
helped establish in the region of Tambakha
Sierra Leone is a safe place to travel. Sure, the transport
network is not great, health care provisions are basic and one
would need to take vaccinations for most tropical diseases. But I
have found the people in Sierra Leone very friendly, positively
curious of westerners, and not at all pushy. In all my trips I have
never been harassed, and haveneverencountered any violence or
I am so confident in Sierra Leone as a safe place to travel that
I am going to take my family there in June. My children are very
excited! They have heard so many of my stories that they are ready
to check the place out for themselves.
So the first week of June we will be spending a family holiday
in Sierra Leone. I am very much looking forward to taking my wife
and children to this place I have talked so much about and to see
their reaction to the country. My kids have seen a bit of the world
(last year we spent a family holiday in Jamaica), but they will
find a very different world out in Sierra Leone. Of course, it will
be difficult for them to see the extreme poverty, but I think they
will realise (probably better than adults) the beauty and
simplicity of the place. Alec (10 years old) is very much looking
forward to playing football with the boys and Rosie (almost 8 years
old) can't wait to help out at one of the street child centres and
give the kids presents she will bring from the UK. We will be
visiting the centres, definitely go to visit the newly built
schools in the region of Tambakha, and hopefully we will spend some
time on one of the manybeaches. Oh those beaches! For good reasons
they are considered the best beaches of Africa. Oh and of course, I
will be running in the first ever (half) marathon of Sierra
I am confident that at Street Child we have started something
truly amazing. Something huge. Something that you can be a part of!
Come and join us for the visit of a lifetime. Run the marathon,
half marathon or 5K in Sierra Leone and raise money for our
projects. Come and see for yourself!
Bart van der Vliet
See here for some more information about safety in Sierra