2018 Sierra Leone Marathon

Voted as the 'Best International Event' at the 2017 Running Awards, the Sierra Leone Marathon is not just a one-day affair, but a five-day African adventure.

Street Child, the charity that organised the Sierra Leone Marathon, believe that every child has the right to be safe and be educated. The charity was founded in 2008 in Sierra Leone, which was then the world's poorest country, and has since spread its impact across Nigeria, Nepal, Bangladesh and more.

Over the five days, the race participants are educated in where the monies they have raised goes; they get to see Street Child's impact first-hand. Participants visit Street Child's projects; rural projects where schools have been established and urban projects where families, with Street Child grants and support, have started businesses to be able to afford their children's schooling. Participants also are involved in workshops held by Street Child's in-country team. And then, of course, the running begins with distances from 5km through to 42km! The day after the race, everyone heads to one of Sierra Leone's beautiful beaches for some rest and relaxation (and reflection).

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Street Child and She Went Wild sent Leanna Gater from Wild Films to document the 2018 Sierra Leone Marathon. 

Here is her trip report:

DAY 1 - THURSDAY

"On Thursday, I went to visit local businesses around Makeni which had been supported by Street Child.

Among others, we met a woman whose niece was only 12 years old when she fell pregnant. With Street Child's help, the woman set up a business in order to keep her niece in school, whilst also looking after her niece’s baby.

There were clearly a lot of children in schools around Makeni, as I often saw many children in different uniforms and there was a school right next to my hotel.

Being a busy urban area, Makeni is relatively wealthy in comparison to rural towns, but there are still a huge amount of people who just can’t afford to send their children to school.

These are the people Street Child aims to help and there is a huge amount of respect amongst the locals for the work that they do in Sierra Leone."

DAY 2 - FRIDAY

"On Friday, we travelled to two rural communities in the Upper Tambaka area, near Kilimi National Park and the border with Guinea. 

Trips out into the rural areas are a wonderful way of seeing Sierra Leone; this country has a wide range of wildlife and some stunning scenery. 

Upon arriving at the first school, we were greeted with lots of singing and dancing from the local community, before being invited to sit and hear about the community.

One of the members of the group was the person who had sponsored the building of this school, so the Chief of the community made him an Honorary Chief, as thanks for what he had done.

Before the school had been built, children had to walk for over an hour and a half each way to reach the nearest school.

The sponsor later told me that after having met the villagers and the chief, he now feels responsible for them and wants to ensure that this community prospers.

One of the other members of the group had brought footballs to donate to the schools and after visiting the classrooms, everyone went outside to play.

After having lunch in the National Park, we visited the second school.

We weren’t able to spend as long at this school as the first one, as we needed to get back, but it was wonderful to spend time at both, surrounded by friendly people who appreciated the assistance they’d been given and the landscape that they lived in."

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DAY 3 - SATURDAY

"Saturday was the day before the marathon and the runners were invited to take part in workshops, including learning a little of Krio, the widely used local language. English is the official language of Sierra Leone; however many people (particularly in rural areas) speak Krio, which is an amalgamation of English and Creole with older tribal languages.

I didn’t join the runners for the workshops, as I was taken out to another rural community. This trip was a special one outside of the normal organised activities, as Nick Hewer (best known for his time on The Apprentice and currently as host of Countdown) was visiting a school that he had sponsored and named after his grandson.

Again, the community greeted us with the children singing welcome songs and the women dancing. We met the Chief of the community and were told how much this school had already done for them.

Shortly after visiting this school, we stopped at another which Street Child had no involvement with. The difference was huge – this school was only partly built as the community had struggled to fund it and find teachers."

DAY 4 - SUNDAY

"It was an early start on Sunday, as the marathon begins around sunrise in order to take advantage of the lower temperatures. It had rained overnight and so it was a pleasantly cool morning. It was a pretty manic day trying to keep up with the runners. I was with a photographer and we had a car to take us around the marathon route and at several points had to race ahead of people to catch them on camera – such as the winner of the marathon, a locally known runner who completed the full course in an incredible 2 hours and 39 minutes!

We attempted to film and photograph as many of the runners as possible, but with around 80 international and over 600 local runners, we were never going to be able to catch everyone.

It’s worth saying though that this isn’t a marathon to try and get a new personal best time at; it’s better described as a fun run than a race. A completely crazy fun run, but one that you can be sure to remember."

DAY 5 - MONDAY

"On Monday, we travelled to Tokeh, a town on the coast of Sierra Leone near to its capital city Freetown. Tokeh sits between two large river deltas, named River No. 1 and River No. 2, and has beautiful white beaches and turquoise waters.

I took the opportunity to relax a little, as the past few days had been pretty hectic, before heading over to the beach party that Street Child had organised.

We had a stunning sunset and later had a lovely bonfire, though it was possibly a little too hot, still, to get too near to it!

At night, Tokeh beach comes alive with small white crabs who are quite amusing to watch as they scuttle around looking for food.

It was time to travel home on Tuesday, but not before having the morning to wander around the beaches and watch the fishermen sail around the bay..."

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As the Founder of Street Child said, "I have always believed in being the change in the world that you want to see" . If you could like to contribute to the positive impact of the Sierra Leone Marathon, please consider this five-day African adventure for your 2019 plans!

Thank you to Leanne Gater from Wild Films for this trip report and beautiful video. 
Please support Leanne by visiting her portfolio here and following her on Instagram (@leagater)

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