Runners take on grueling Sierra Leone race for charity
By Simon Akam
MAKENI, Sierra Leone (Reuters) - When retired British General Richard Dannatt spoke to runners gathered last Friday in northern Sierra Leone for the country's first postwar marathon, there was a shade of Shakespeare's Henry V on the night before the battle of Agincourt.
"The person who's going to take most care of you tomorrow morning is yourself," advised the former Chief of the General Staff of the British Army. "I take your personal safety as being the top line and the bottom line."
Dannatt's audience was preparing for a different kind of battle than the British soldiers, whose actions a dozen years ago helped bring about the end of Sierra Leone's civil war.
They were competitors in Sierra Leone's first marathon, and their opponent was not Kalashnikov-toting rebels, but the heat in a country once dubbed "the white man's grave" during the colonial period because its muggy, malarial climate often proved lethal to Europeans.
In the latter years of the civil war, Makeni was the capital of the Revolutionary United Front rebels, and now, it is a booming hub for nearby iron ore and biofuel projects.
The event was organized as a fundraiser by Street Child of Sierra Leone, a charity founded by Dannatt's son, with the aim to raise 250,000 pounds ($387,800) to take children off the streets in a country, which, despite 10 years of peace since a bloody civil war, remains one of the poorest in the world.
The charity lured around 150 international competitors.
"We want to give the guys who've come over from international countries an understanding of what they're raising funds for," Street Child's spokesman Martin Forsyth said. Continued...