If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dan-Thompson11
Date : 23rd July, 2018
Time : 1h 05’ 45”
Number of runners (total to date) : 17 (2321)
Total distance run to date : 1480 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2878602267
Thanks to a stomach upset, which had kept me bouncing from bed to toilet for the previous 18 hours, I’d only had 3 hours sleep the night before.
To make matters worse, my back had almost gone into spasm during the twenty minute wait at the military check point on the outskirts of Arsal. And I had a nasty little blister on my left heel.
I was well and truly drained and in no shape for a run. Especially one which started with a steep 400m climb in hot, dusty conditions.
Feeling a touch sorry for me? DON’T!
I’m one of the lucky ones. One of the very lucky ones.
Running with me were 16 children from the education centre run by SB Overseas (a Belgian NGO that provides aid to refugees and conflict victims) in Arsal. They were all refugees from the country a few kilometres away on the other side of the mountain range – Syria.
On first sight, my fellow runners were exactly like all the other school kids I talk to, and run with, around the world. They all set off far too fast and were out of breath after 200m (to be fair, it really was quite steep). As I was to discover, they also like to fool around, ask cheeky questions, and generally throw themselves into life with great enthusiasm. Again, much like their global counterparts.
However, there’s no getting round the fact that a refugee’s life is very different.
After the run I gave my standard Run the World / healthy living school presentation to the group who’d run with me. There’s a point in the presentation when I talk about the importance of not taking mobile devices into the bedroom (they interfere with sleep). Before I said anything to the group, I turned to Louma who was translating, to ask if they had any mobile devices. I thought she said, “Yes, they have mobile phones.” (Turns out this was a misunderstanding – they don’t have phones.)
So I went ahead with the advice. At which point she looked at me as if I was an idiot (I was) and said, “They don’t have bedrooms.”
They may not have bedrooms or phones – or a lot of other things that some of us take for granted. But they were great kids and I was honoured to have met them and learnt a little about their lives.
But what about the run I hear you cry? The school children ran with me for the first kilometre or so and after that I was expecting to be on my own. But, on the day, that wasn’t felt to be safe so Moutaz drove alongside me with Felix taking pictures.
Given the speed I was running at, that must have been pretty dull for them. Sorry guys. If I’d been capable of running any faster, I promise I would have done!
Arsal wasn’t entirely what I expected. 7 years ago it was a small mountain village. But then the Syrian war began and it’s subsequently grown enormously. It’s now a mixture of large concrete buildings – some bordering on villas – and rows upon rows of tightly packed tents measuring approximately 2m by 5m each.
As you may have guessed, the refugees live in the tents. For which they pay both ground rent and tent rent. No easy task when, officially, they can’t be employed in Lebanon.
Already having fled conflict, they now live below the poverty line. This has a variety of consequences as SB Overseas has seen from its work on the ground. One such consequence is the rise in the practise of child marriage in Lebanon amongst the Syrian refugee community – from 13% to 42% since the start of the conflict.
One of the proven ways of tackling child marriage is through education, something that most of the refugees can’t afford. Which is one of the many reasons that SB OverSeas has opened three schools in Lebanon: in Beirut, Arsaland Saida. Access to education is especially important in places like Arsal, a so-called ‘red zone’ as it has been subject to threats from ISIS.
Of course, what the refugees really want to do is to go home. And everyone agrees that they should. But the question the refugees face is whether or not it’s now safe for them to return ? Will there be somewhere for them to live? Some way of earning a living?
Not that these concerns deter everyone. As the soldiers at the check point told us, there was a lot of movement that day. Apparently a group of 500 – 1000 refugees were setting off for Syria.
I wish them, and all the other refugees, the very best of luck. Whether or not to go home shouldn’t be a life or death decision.
It just remains for me to say an enormous thank you to Louma, Moutaz, Felix, Rima, Jade, Caroline and everyone at SB Overseas for making the run a possibility. If you’d like to donate to SB Overseas then here’s the link : http://sboverseas.org/donate/
And an equally enormous thank you to everyone I ran with for the company and presents. I will never forget my time in Arsal.
Please like / follow Run the World on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter because it would be great to stay in touch and because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!
*The concept behind Run the World is to run 10 km in every country in the world. And Arsal isn’t actually in Syria. However, The British Foreign Office currently strongly advises against all travel to Syria so running with Syrian refugees, on the Syrian border, seemed like a great substitute. (Once its safe, and I can obtain a visa, I will run in Syria.)
More pictures from the day below.