Run 102 : Belize – Belize City

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 28th March, 2017

Time :  55’ 10”

Total distance run to date : 1020 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1682370768

Media : http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/144111 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFqjVsIoVWA ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQPtZN7J0Vw

Some years ago, I volunteered for a charity called Crimestoppers. Not to be confused with Crimewatch, Crimestoppers offers a free and completely anonymous system for people to pass on information about crimes and criminals (by phone – 0800 555 111 – text or online.)

As someone once forcibly said to me, it’s not for the middle class. They can just go to the police.

It’s for people who are scared of the police. Or who are scared of retribution from the criminals in question. Or who want to stop their sons and brothers from entering a life of crime but know it would rip the family apart if anyone knew they’d gone to the police.

The information is received and assessed by trained operatives (usually ex police) and then passed on, stripped of any details that might identify the informant, to the police. It’s very simple and incredibly effective.  In 2015-16, 318 211 people contacted Crimestoppers solving or preventing 16 263 crimes including 2024 violent crimes.

Crimestoppers was set up in the UK by (Lord) Michael Ashcroft who has a number of business interest in Belize. Claire, who used to sit on the London Crimestoppers Board with me, got in touch with him about my run in Belize and he was kind enough to put us in touch with his organisation in Belize who, in turn, got in touch with Channel 5. They liked the story and invited me to do a 25 minutes interview on breakfast TV.

I think it’s fair to say that the atmosphere at Channel 5 was more relaxed than you often find when doing media interviews in the UK. I was interviewed by two very well prepped and utterly charming interviewers (picture above). We covered a lot of ground and they asked me a number of questions which, despite all the Run the World interviews I’ve done around the world, were new to me. Including whether its cathartic for me to be doing something positive in my mother’s memory. Which I hadn’t thought about previously but which I guess is true. Anyway, if you’re interested, the interview can be seen here.

Perhaps the most difficult question they asked me was how I’d enjoyed my run in Belize the previous day. Hmmm…how to answer that? I was very happy to be in Belize but, frankly, the run had bordered on the hellish.

I was running with Julian from the British High Commission. The Commission is situated in the capital Belmopan – 80km inland from Belize City (where I was based). Luckily Julian had a meeting in Belize City that morning and I was able to meet him after his meeting. The only downside being that it would mean running at 1pm.

As I walked to meet him, I began to realise just how hot it was. I started to feel a touch apprehensive remembering other ‘warm’ runs from the past. South Sudan where the world had gone orange as heat stroke set in. Namibia where I’d been so discombobulated that I tripped over nothing and then got lost. Egypt where it had been over 100 F as I ran round the pyramids. Papua New Guinea where it had just been bloody awful.

At first the run wasn’t too bad. Julian is ex-military and he regaled me with tales from his tours everywhere from Bosnia to Iraq to Afghanistan. Now I know not everyone thinks British troops should be in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. But ordinary soldiers aren’t involved in those decisions and I admire the soldiers for what they do and the dangers they face while the rest of us sit safely at home. (Julian’s typically military view was that they were just doing the job they signed up to do.)

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But the heat kept pounding us – exacerbated by the fact that, not only was sun beating down on our heads but it was also bouncing back off the asphalt of the road surface.(Picture above.) Eventually we got inadvertently separated as we both battled to keep going. Without Julian’s conversation the last few kms were fairly grim. I’m not sure how Julian – who’s not constantly training to run 10km like I am – made it. That’s the military training for you I guess.

Having said that, the ending made up for a lot. We finished at the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize – BATSUB – which supports British and allied troops doing their jungle raining in Belize. The officers and soldiers – picture below – clapped us in and treated us to a post run orange squash and a biscuit. Nothing like a warm reception to make you forget about the run!

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Thank you Julian, everyone at BATSUB, Lord Ashcroft, Claire for all the support and help. And thank you Channel 5 for the chance to tell my story to the people of Belize.

Facts & Stats

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is an independent country on the eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Its mainland is about 290 km (180 mi) long and 110 km (68 mi) wide.

Belize has an area of 22,800 square kilometres (8,800 sq mi) and a population of 368,310 (2015). It has the lowest population density in Central America.The country’s population growth rate of 1.87% per year (2015) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Belize’s abundance of terrestrial and marine species and its diversity of ecosystems gives it a key place in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and languages that reflect its rich history. English is the official language of Belize, with Belizean Kriol being the unofficial language. Over half the population is multilingual, with Spanish being the second most common spoken language.

Belize is considered a Central American and Caribbean nation with strong ties to both the Latin American and Caribbean regions.[9] It is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Central American Integration System (SICA), the only country to hold full membership in all three regional organisations. Belize is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state.

Belize is known for its September Celebrations, its extensive coral reefs, and punta music.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for Belize – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                     359 k            2015        247 k            2000

GDP                                               $1.75 billion  2015       832 million  2000

GNI per capita                             $4490             2015       $3150            2000

% below poverty line*               No data                         No data

Life expectancy at birth            70.2 years     2015       68.4 years     2000

Primary school enrolment**   113%              2015       116%             2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 101 : Guatemala – Guatemala City

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Many years ago, in the pre-children era, Liz and I did a coach tour through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. The Guatemalan leg took in Tikal and Antigua – both highly recommended – before ending at Guatemala City airport. There were a few hours until our flight so, being a ‘must see round the next corner’ kind of person, I talked Liz into heading into the city to visit (I think) a museum. After a whistle-stop tour, we went back outside onto the street to find a taxi.

A vehicle screeched to a halt next to us. “Get in the car!” “Uh, why?” “It’s not safe for you to be on the street. Get in the car!” “Really, are you sure?” “Yes, get in the car!”

By this stage we were obviously trying to work out where the real danger lay – on the street or in a complete stranger’s car? After a few more incisive questions (along the lines of the ones above…) we made a judgement call and jumped into the car. And, sure enough, we were driven to the airport in complete safety.

I guess this story is indicative of the instability and violence prevalent in Guatemala in the 1990s (pls see Facts & Stats below). It’s certainly indicative of the fact that there are extremely friendly people in Guatemala who’ll go out of their way to help naïve/idiotic tourists.

I couldn’t help thinking back on the incident as I was picked up by car again – although this time from my hotel by the wonderful people from the British Embassy. They whisked me off to our meeting point at the Monument to the Winning Spirit just outside Guatemala’s National Stadium, named after Doroteo Guamuch Flores who, in 1952, became the only Guatemalan to have ever won the Boston Marathon.

There we were joined by a party from the Guatemalan Olympic Committee which included Gerardo Aguirre (President of GOC), Lorena Toriello de Garcia-Gallont (GOC Executive Board Member), Neville Stiles (GOC Director of International Affairs), Oliver Scheer (German Sports Advisor to the Guatemalan Sports Confederation and GOC) and Stefan Hubner (a professor at Oxford and  friend of Oliver’s). As the British Embassy contingent included British Ambassador to Honduras, based in Guatemala, Carolyn Davidson and Deputy Head of Mission Andrew Tate, we were a distinguished group (picture above).

With that many VIPs, security needed to be up to scratch and a couple of police motorcycle outriders duly arrived to take care of us. Which was great because they took care of any possible safety issues including setting up temporary road blocks whenever there were streets to be crossed.

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In fact, the whole run was great. A cool evening, a sensible pace, a mostly flat route and excellent company.

We discussed things Olympics. Guatemala won its first ever Olympic medal at London 2012 – when Erick Barrondo won a silver medal in the men’s 20km walk. This raised expectations in Guatemala but, unfortunately, there weren’t any more medals at Rio. A reminder of just how hard it is to win a single Olympic medal.

As an aside, as some readers may know, the challenge I set myself prior to Run the World, was to do every different Olympic and Paralympic event in the lead up to the 2012 Games. I can promise you that even trying to do some of these events – let alone medalling in them – is supremely difficult.

On which subject, if you enjoy people making a fool of themselves, then you may like these videos of me attempting a forward rollhigh diving and gymnastics with Louis Smith – multiple Olympic medallist and winner of Strictly Come Dancing in 2012. (That last video has had over 26 000 views – I’m sure Louis is grateful to me for the exposure and increased profile…).

We discussed things sport. Running, of course, but also skiing with Stefan (we had a good chat about the Streif – possibly the most iconic downhill in the world.) Needless to say, with that kind of conversation, and the police motorcyclists taking care of the other things I often have to worry about on these runs, I hardly noticed the 10km.

Basically we ran south down Avenida Reforma, the main road cutting through the centre of Guatemala City, which turns into Avenida Las Americas. After 6 or 7km, near the monument to Pope John Paul II, we turned back on ourselves and then branched off to the British Ambassador’s residence, where Union Jack decorated nibbles, photos and drinks awaited us.

rtw guatemala 9Thank you Ambassador Davidson, Neville and Sigrid for organising everything. Thank you everyone else for coming along and supporting Run the World. Enormously appreciated. You are all invited to join me for my 206th & final run in Tokyo in 2020!

The Facts & Stats

Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, Honduras to the east and El Slavador to the southeast. With an estimated population of around 15.8 million, it is the most populated state in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy ; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

The territory of modern Guatemala once formed the core of the Maya civilization, which extended across Mesoamerica. Most of the country was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century, becoming part of the viceroyalty  of New Spain. Guatemala attained independence in 1821 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1841.

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala experienced chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubico  was overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. A U.S.-backed military coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the US-backed government and leftist  rebels, including genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetrated by the military. In 1986 Guatemala saw the start of democratically elected civilian governments. Since a United Nations-negotiated peace accord, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability. As of 2014, Guatemala ranked 31st of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries in terms of the Human Development Index.

Guatemala’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems includes a large number of endemic species and contributes to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The country is also known for its rich and distinct culture, which is characterized by a fusion of Spanish and Indigenous influences.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Guatemala – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                      16.3 m             2015         11.7 m           2000

GDP                                                  $63.8 billion   2015         19.3 billion  2000

GNI per capita                                $3590              2015         $1660            2000

% below poverty line*                  59%                 2014        56%               2008

Life expectancy at birth                72.0 years      2015        67.7 years    2000

Primary school enrolment**       103%               2014        102%             2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 100 : Mexico – Mexico City

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 26th March, 2017

Time :  52’ 49”

Total distance run to date : 1000 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1682370704

Media : https://www.facebook.com/ukinmexico/

I don’t know how you feel about Mother’s Day. A thoroughly deserved and much needed occasion for children to show their appreciation of everything their mothers do for them? An artificial construct designed to sell more cards, flowers and chocolates? Or perhaps even, depending on your faith & culture, a celebration of the Virgin Mary and the Mother Church? A combination of the above?

Your answer may depend on where you live. In the UK, Mother’s Day almost certainly evolved from the 16th-century Christian practice of visiting your mother church (where you were likely to see your mother) annually on Laetare Sunday. Although it has subsequently taken on many of the characteristics of Mother’s Day in the US and elsewhere, Mother’s Day in the UK has retained its original timing and is held on the 4th Sunday of Lent.

In 2017, that fell on Sunday 26th of March – the date of my 100th run. Which seemed fitting given that it was my mother’s death from cancer in late 2013 that really marked the start of my Run the World challenge – and motivated me to raise money for Cancer Research.

And, although I still wasn’t even half way through the 206 countries of the world, the 100th run felt like a milestone. It represented a 1000 km of often gruelling running (plus I don’t know how many kilometres more in training). Surely that deserved a memorable run?

Mexico City didn’t disappoint. The conditions were about as perfect as it gets for running. Brilliant sunshine but still cool due to Mexico City’s altitude (2250m). And the Centro Historico of Mexico City – which is essentially 15 square kilometres of UNESCO world heritage site – is a great place to run. Especially when Paseo de la Reforma, one of its main thoroughfares, is closed to traffic. As it is every Sunday morning.

What a great idea – and something I’m now going to campaign for in central London. On which subject, I’d appreciate it if someone could pass this note on to the Mayor :

‘Dear Sadiq,

Please can you close Horseguards, the Mall, and Constitution Hill every Sunday morning. In return, I promise to create a set of walking, running and cycling routes that will be used and loved by thousands of Londoners and tourists alike.

All the best,

Dan (the running man)’

There were certainly thousands of runners, walkers and cyclists out that morning in Mexico City. Including 3 brave souls from the British Embassy who’d been good enough to give up their Sunday mornings to accompany a mad Brit : Olivier – Deputy Head of Mission (who’s recorded the 3rd fastest London Marathon time of anyone with Crohn’s disease) ; Carolina – Digital Media Manager ; and Humberto – Pro Consul. (Picture above.)

We met at the Angel de la Independencia monument (El Angel) and set off northeast along Paseo de la Reforma before turning right down Juarez, past the Palacio de Bellas Artes and into Zócalo – the Plaza de la Constitución. (Picture below).

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Measuring some 240 meters in each direction, it’s the world’s 3rd largest square (after Tiananmen and Red Square) and home to some of Mexico’s most visited tourist attractions including the National Palace – with its Diego Rivera murals – the Templo Mayor – with its Aztec relics – and the Metropolitan Cathedral where anyone can get married for free on Valentine’s Day. It’s also where they filmed the helicopter scene in the bond movie ‘Spectre’.

How do I know all this? Because Olivier was the perfect guide and kept up a running (pun intended) commentary as we went round Mexico City. We even managed to talk him into shooting a video of the Zócalo  – complete with commentary.

From there we retraced our steps, going as far west as the Bosque de Chatulpec, before turning back and finishing back at El Angel – running up the steps Rocky style. A historic moment which Humberto was good enough to video. Judging from my celebration, I was reasonably pleased to have finished the first 100 runs…

A fantastic run. Olivier, Carolina and Humberto – thank you enormously for all the support! (And Olivier, good luck with the book on running in every state in Mexico!)

The Facts & Stats

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a federal republic in the southern half of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost two million square kilometres (over 760,000 sq mi), Mexico is the sixth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent nation in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million, it is the eleventh most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world while being the second most populous country in Latin America. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and a federal district that is also its capital and most populous city.

Pre-Columbian Mexico was home to many advanced Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Maya and Aztec before first contact with Europeans. In 1521, the Spanish Empire conquered and colonized and administered as the viceroyalty of New Spain. Three centuries later, this territory became Mexico following recognition in 1821 after the colony’s Mexican War of Independence. The tumultuous post-independence period was characterized by economic instability and many political changes. The Mexican–American War (1846–48) led to the territorial cession of the extensive northern borderlands, one-third of its territory, to the United States. The Pastry War, the Franco-Mexican War, a civil war, two empires and a domestic dictatorship occurred through the 19th century. The dictatorship was overthrown in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which culminated with the promulgation of the 1917 Constitution and the emergence of the country’s current political system.

Mexico has the fifteenth largest nominal GDP and the eleventh largest by purchasing power parity. The Mexican economy is strongly linked to those of its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, especially the United States. Mexico was the first Latin American member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), joining in 1994. It is classified as an upper-middle income country by the World Bank] and a newly industrialized country by several analysts. By 2050, Mexico could become the world’s fifth or seventh largest economy. Due to its rich culture and history, Mexico ranks first in the Americas and seventh in the world by number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Mexico is a megadiverse country, ranking fourth in the world by biodiversity. In 2015 it was the 9th most visited country in the world, with 32.1 million international arrivals.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Mexico – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                        127 m              2015         102.8 m          2000

GDP                                                    $1.14 trillion  2015          683.6 billion  2000

GNI per capita                                 $9710              2015          $5750             2000

% below poverty line*                   53.2%              2014          49%                 2008

Life expectancy at birth                 76.9 years      2015          74.3 years      2000

Primary school enrolment**        103%               2014          106%               2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 99 : Andorra – Andorra La Vella

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 15th March, 2017

Time :  58’ 07”

Total distance run to date : 990 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1629888411

Every so often someone turns to me and says, “ I don’t mean to be rude, but what exactly do you do?”

If you’re reading this blog then you know that I’m currently attempting to complete a 10 km run in every country in the world before the 2020 Olympics. Between all the planning, the training, the travelling, the running and the blogging, it takes up far more time that you might imagine.

However, it doesn’t take up all of my time. And one of the other things* I do is chair a company called Gold Challenge. I volunteer my time – its effectively a not-for-profit – and I’m passionate about it.

Gold Challenge launched in late 2010 and ran two Olympic and Paralympic inspired charity challenges in the run up to London 2012. We partnered with the British Olympic Association/Team GB, Paralympics GB and Sport England and we were part of the official London 2012 mass participation legacy programme.  We also worked closely with LOCOG and hosted a pre-Games test event – for 20 000 people – in the Olympic Stadium. (Picture below taken by Help for Heroes at the Olympic Stadium event.)

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Over 100 000 people took part in the challenges and we realised that, having made plenty of mistakes along the way, we’d learnt something about challenges and how to motivate people to be more active. Something that shouldn’t just be thrown away once the Games were over.

So we now offer workplace and community based challenges and we’ve worked with a range of clients from major multinationals to local boroughs. Over 160 000 people have taken part in our challenges to date and, if I say so myself, they’re bloody good. And great value for money. So get in touch if you want your workforce or your community to be more active – while simultaneously building team and community spirit!

Enough of the plug for Gold Challenge and back to the story. One of our team has recently been spending time in Barcelona and coming back to the UK for meetings. We decided that it would only be fair if we held a meeting in Barcelona – so we flew there for a strategy and planning session. (We’re not the only people to have had the idea. I recently heard about a company, based in London and Edinburgh, who did the same thing because it was cheaper than putting half the staff on the train to either London or Edinburgh. If you’re flexible about when you fly, and not too fussy about your accommodation, Barcelona is a surprisingly cost effective place to meet.)

Being Gold Challenge, we decided we should do a 10 km run in Barcelona while we were there. I’d already done my Spanish 10km but this felt like good insurance in case Catalonia ever becomes independent. It was one of the most brilliant and scenic city runs I’ve ever done – taking in many of Barcelona’s key sights. Put together by Jon and Jane, it would also make a great walking route. (The picture at the top of the blog is of Eugene, Sophie and me on Montjiuc near the Olympic stadium.)

As I was going to be in Barcelona, I thought I should grab the opportunity to do my Andorran run. (Andorra is c 200 km north west of Barcelona.) I had a look for connecting flights and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find any. Turns out there’s no airport in Andorra. Never mind, I thought, I’ll get a train. Err no, there are no rail lines in Andorra. Eventually, Jon arranged a cheap car hire and we drove up there together. A mixture of the world’s slowest car hire check-in, Barcelona’s one way system and a couple of wrong turns meant that it took us a bit of time to get out of Barcelona. But, once we’d got going, it was beautiful drive to Andorra through some stunning countryside.

Andorra itself is effectively a series of steep valleys. There’s not really a lot of open space or flat ground on which to run. Jon therefore came up with the plan of driving into Andorra, dropping me off somewhere up one of the valleys (picture below), and then letting me run 10 km back down the road to meet him at a prearranged meeting point. A plan which, on the whole, worked remarkably well. I even found a mountainside path which meant I didn’t have to run along the road.

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Run over, it was time to put the foot down and try to get back to Barcelona in time for a shower, a cold beer, tapas and the return leg of Man City v Monaco. It was all going pretty well until we got back to the hire company’s car park in Barcelona and realised we needed to fill up with petrol. Even with Google’s help, it took us half an hour to find an open petrol station. And then we couldn’t get into the car park because of emergency works outside the car park. And then the check-in guy discovered a tiny scratch on the car which he decided was our fault.

Jon (picture below) kept his patience admirably and we got out of the car hire company relatively unscathed – a mere hour after we’d originally passed by the car park. Never mind, we still saw the second half of the game in an Irish bar. And found a great local restaurant down some obscure side street in the Barrio Gotico. That’s Barcelona for you.

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Thank you Jon and Jane for all the fantastic help with both runs – I wouldn’t have made it to Andorra without you. And thank you Sophie and Eugene for the company in Barcelona!

*I also work with 2 charities : Technology Trust – which helps charities and not-for-profits with technology solutions that cut costs and increase fundraising – and the wonderful Panathlon – which provides sporting opportunities and training for over 10 000 disabled children every year. Finally, I’m a business angel which means I invest in early stage private companies. Recent investments have included StepJockey which creates healthy, active buildings through a mixture of unique interactive signs and star climbing challenges. As you may have spotted, there’s an encouraging people to be more active / healthy living theme to a lot of what I do…

The Facts & Stats

Andorra is a sovereign landlocked microstate in Southwestern Europe, located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains and bordered by Spain and France. Created under a charter in 988, the present principality was formed in 1278. It is known as a principality as it is a monarchy headed by two Co-Princes – the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Spain, and the President of France.

Andorra is the sixth-smallest nation in Europe, having an area of 468 km2 (181 sq mi) and a population of approximately 85,000. Its capital Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe, at an elevation of 1,023 metres (3,356 ft) above sea level. The official language is Catalan, although Spanish, Portuguese, and French are also commonly spoken.

It is not a member of the European Union, but the euro is the official currency. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1993. In 2013, the people of Andorra had the highest life expectancy in the world at 81 years, according to The Lancet.

Due to its location in the eastern Pyrenees mountain range, Andorra consists predominantly of rugged mountains, the highest being the Coma Pedrosa at 2,942 metres (9,652 ft), and the average elevation of Andorra is 1,996 metres (6,549 ft). These are dissected by three narrow valleys in a Y shape that combine into one as the main stream, the Gran Valira river, leaves the country for Spain (at Andorra’s lowest point of 840 m or 2,756 ft).

Tourism, the mainstay of Andorra’s tiny, well-to-do economy, accounts for roughly 80% of GDP. An estimated 10.2 million tourists visit annually, attracted by Andorra’s duty-free status and by its summer and winter resorts.

One of the main sources of income in Andorra is tourism from ski resorts which total over 175 km (109 mi) of ski ground. The sport brings in over 7 million visitors and an estimated 340 million euros per year, sustaining 2000 direct and 10000 indirect jobs at present.

The banking sector, with its tax haven status, also contributes substantially to the economy (the financial and insurance sector accounts for approximately 19% of GDP).

Agricultural production is limited—only 2% of the land is arable—and most food has to be imported. Some tobacco is grown locally. The principal livestock activity is domestic sheep raising. Manufacturing output consists mainly of cigarettes, cigars, and furniture. Andorra’s natural resources include hydroelectric power, mineral water, timber, iron ore, and lead.

Andorra has traditionally had one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates. In 2009 it stood at 2.9%.

Two-thirds of residents lack Andorran nationality and do not have the right to vote in communal elections. Moreover, they are not allowed to be elected as president or to own more than 33% of the capital stock of a privately held company.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Andorra – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                        70 473             2015                 65 399             2000

GDP                                                    $3.25 billion   2013                 $1.40 billion   2000

GNI per capita                                 $43 270           2014                 $19 930           2000

% below poverty line*                   NA                                              NA

Life expectancy at birth                 NA                                              NA

Primary school enrolment**        NA                                              NA

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country.

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students.

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Thank You Readers!

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My blog has now had over 20 000 views so it seemed like an appropriate moment to say thank you to everyone who’s ever read it – all 7863 of you!

I’m particularly grateful to the blog’s regular readers and the picture above of another runner – the Flash – is my way of saying thank you. I took it at a preview of the new Art of the Brick exhibition in London which, if you like superheroes and Lego – and who doesn’t – is a great show.

If you haven’t had a chance to catch up with the blog recently then my recent sojourn in the Pacific has, I think, had more views than any other Run the World trip. Fascinating countries, plenty of suffering for yours truly, coruscating (…) writing, the picture of my post op scar – no doubt they all played a part.

The trip took in Guam, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines and included plenty of exhaustion, more than a touch of fear and some heart rending moments. I’ll never forget the trip and I hope the blogs give you some sense of the countries in question.

I hope the blogs also, in some way, promote Run the World’s twin aims : encouraging everyone to be more active and to donate to Cancer Research.

In any event, whether you read the blogs for fun – or out of a sense of duty or friendship – thanks again for the support. It’s much appreciated!

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Run 98 : Philippines – Manila

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 24th January, 2017

Time :  53’ 27”(fastest time in the Pacific)

Total distance run to date : 980 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1543565190

After months of headlines here about Brexit and Trump, it was almost a relief to pick up a Filipino newspaper and see something different. The main story was about President Duterte and his threats to impose martial law to combat the country’s drugs problem and “to preserve the Filipino people and the youth of this land”.

International news coverage can be patchy in the West, but you may recall reading about Rodrigo Duterte. President Obama cancelled a meeting with him after Duterte called Obama a ‘son of a whore’. He also called the Pope a ‘son of a whore’ after being caught in a traffic jam caused by the Pope’s visit.

The controversial statements don’t stop there. Duterte told supporters at a campaign rally that, as Mayor, he thought he “should have been first” to rape Jacqueline Hamill, an Australian missionary who was gang-raped and killed during the 1989 Davao hostage crisis. Referring to the almost commonplace assassination of journalists in the Philippines (174 killed since the end of the Marcos regime) he said “Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong.”

His foreign policy pronouncements have been no less inflammatory. “Mr. Obama, you can go to hell. EU, better choose purgatory. Hell is already full. Why should I be afraid of you?” and “there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines, and Russia”.

Some have referred to Duterte as the Asian Trump. A sobriquet that, depending on your politics, you may either see as a compliment or a criticism. Whatever your views, Duterte is, by all accounts, very popular in the Philippines.

International criticism of Duterte focuses on his hard-line policy towards drugs and crime in general. He supports a shoot to kill policy with some estimating that as many as 6 000 people have been killed since he became President. Duterte even claims to have killed three criminals himself.

Caught in the cross fire – or quite possibly deliberately targeted – are the street children of Philippines. Children that I was to ‘meet’ shortly after my arrival in Manila.

I’d spent all morning and early afternoon cooped up in my hotel in Papua New Guinea (readers of my Papua New Guinea blog will know that you don’t just pop out for a stroll on the streets of Port Moresby). I’d then flown to Manila and didn’t get to my hotel until after 10pm. After a bite to eat, I badly needed to stretch my legs.

I could have sworn the pavements had been full of hustle and bustle when I’d arrived but it was now after 11 pm and everything seemed oddly quiet. I turned right out of the hotel and fairly quickly hit a major road with no obvious way to cross it. So I continued round the corner and came across a brightly lit convenience store.

And there, on the concrete steps leading up to the store front, was a mother putting her child to bed. She’d lain a thin layer of what looked like foil on the step and was now wrapping the child in a blanket.

Readers without children may want to skip the next paragraph on the grounds of its unabashed sentimentality. Those with kids will, I think, know what I mean when I say that tucking a child into bed can be a special moment. You want your child to feel safe, warm, secure and loved.

Despite the harsh lighting and concrete surroundings, there was something so universal, and so poignant, about the mother’s actions that I was tempted to take a photo for this blog. It then occurred to me that even asking permission to take a photo – let alone taking one – would have been a gross invasion of privacy.

In fact, I needed to stop staring at the scene. So I turned round and set off back to the hotel.

At the street corner I realised with a shock that there, lying on the ground, was a tiny kid wrapped round the base of a tree. I hadn’t even noticed him/her the first time I’d passed by. At the time I assumed s/he was asleep. But looking back on it, s/he could equally well have been dead. Either way, I’m not sure anyone would have cared.

I started to become aware just how many homeless people there were around me. Between the front of the hotel, and the main road, were a slip road and a raised strip a few meters wide. That strip was full of people camping out for the night. Some of them called out to me – to be friendly ; to ask for help ; to sell me something. I couldn’t tell you. (Picture below – not mine – is of Roxas Boulevard during the day.)

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I retired to my (modestly priced by western standards) hotel room, looked at the two twin beds and thought about the enormous gap in sleeping quarters.

I’m not suggesting that asking the homeless to share hotel rooms with tourists is the solution. And I’m certainly not pretending I know what the answer is. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Manila is reported to have the most homeless people of any city in the world (70 000 – just ‘ahead’ of New York City and Los Angeles). It is also, by a distance, the most densely populated city in the world. Finding the money and space to house that many homeless people is presumably difficult bordering on the impossible. However, you can’t help feeling that killing them isn’t the answer…and that at least the children need protection from the elements and the sharks that prowl the streets.

I got up early next morning after a disturbed night and looked out the window. The sky was grey, there was rain in the air, and large puddles on the street. It must have been miserable for anyone sleeping rough.

But, and this seemed extremely unfair in the circumstances, it wasn’t bad for running. Whether due to the coolness, or the more than 24 hour break since my previous run, I wasn’t suffering physically as I had in Micronesia or PNG. My legs were working properly for the first time on the trip.

I started at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines – pic below – and ran towards what looked like some interesting buildings on the map.

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On closer inspection these turned out to be shopping malls so I turned round and ran along the Manila Baywalk to Rizal Park – pic below. (An excellent running route if you’re ever in the area.)

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To see more of Manila, I ran back to the hotel along the city side of Roxas Boulevard. Much slower going than the Baywalk but I still finished in 53 1/2 minutes – my fastest 10km in the Pacific.

Time for a shower, breakfast and the 17 hour journey back to London. Where the headlines hadn’t changed but where, despite all its problems, including homelessness, it felt like there was much to be grateful for…

The Facts & Stats

The Philippines is an island country in Southeast Asia situated in the western Pacific Ocean. It consists of about 7,641 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila

The Philippines’ location on the Pacific Ring of Fire and close to the equator makes the Philippines prone to earthquakes and typhoons, but also endows it with abundant natural resources and some of the world’s greatest biodiversity. The Philippines has an area of 300,000 square kilometres (115,831 sq mi),and a population of approximately 100 million. It is the eighth-most populated country in Asia and the 12th most populated country in the world. As of 2013, approximately 10 million additional Filipinos lived overseas comprising one of the world’s largest diasporas.

The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 marked the beginning of Hispanic colonization. In 1543, Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos named the archipelago Las Islas Filipinas in honour of Philip II of Spain. The Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire for more than 300 years. This resulted in Roman Catholicism becoming the dominant religion.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, there followed in quick succession the Philippine Revolution, which spawned the short-lived First Philippine Republic, followed by the bloody Philippine–American War of conquest by US military force.] Aside from the period of Japanese occupation, the United States retained sovereignty over the islands until after World War II, when the Philippines was recognized as an independent nation (in 1946.).

The Philippines is considered to be an emerging market and a newly industrialized country which has an economy transitioning from being one based on agriculture to one based more on services and manufacturing.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos won the presidential election. Early in his presidency, Marcos initiated numerous infrastructure projects but was accused of massive corruption and embezzling billions of dollars in public funds. Nearing the end of his term, Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972.This period of his rule was characterized by political repression, censorship, and human rights violations but the US were steadfast in its support. His wife Imelda famously lived a lavish lifestyle while the majority of Filipinos remained in poverty.

On August 21, 1983, Marcos’ chief rival, opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. was assassinated on the tarmac at Manila International Airport. Marcos eventually called snap presidential elections in 1986. Marcos was proclaimed the winner, but the results were widely regarded as fraudulent, leading to the People Power Revolution. Marcos and his allies fled to Hawaii and Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, was recognized as president.

The return of democracy and government reforms beginning in 1986 were hampered by national debt, government corruption, coup attempts, disasters, a persistent communist insurgency and a military conflict with Moro separatists During Corazon Aquino‘s administration, U.S. forces withdrew from the Philippines, due to the rejection of the U.S. Bases Extension Treaty. The administration also faced a series of natural disasters, including the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. After introducing a constitution that limited presidents to a single term, Aquino did not stand for re-election.

Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 presidential election becoming the first president from Mindanao. After winning the Presidency, Duterte urged, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”By October 2016, one hundred days after Duterte took office, the death toll for the Philippine Drug War passed 3,000 people.

 

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Philippines – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

 

Population                                        100.7 million     2015                 77.9 million     2000

GDP                                                    $292.5 billion    2015                 $81.03 billion  2000

GNI per capita                                 $3550                 2014                  $1220               2000

% below poverty line*                   25.2%                 2012                  24.9%               2003

Life expectancy at birth                 68.3 years          2014                 66.7 years       2000

Primary school enrolment**        108.9%               2009                 109.4%             2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

 

In case you’d like to read more about Duterte, or street children in the Philippines, I’ve added below some related (and unedited) Wikipedia content.

 

Rodrigo Duterte

Rodrigo “Rody” Roa Duterte (Tagalog: [ɾoˈdrigo dʊˈtɛrtɛ]; born March 28, 1945), also known as Digong,[5] is a Filipino politician and jurist who is the 16th and current President of the Philippines.[6][7][8] He is the first Mindanaoan to hold the office, and the fourth of Visayan descent.[9] At 71 years old, Duterte is the oldest person to assume the Philippine presidency, superseding Sergio Osmeña and Fidel Ramos, respectively.

Duterte studied political science at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, graduating in 1968, before obtaining a law degree from San Beda College of Law in 1972. He then worked as a lawyer and was a prosecutor for Davao City, a highly urbanized city on Mindanao island, before becoming vice mayor and, subsequently, mayor of the city in the wake of the Philippine Revolution of 1986. Duterte was among the longest-serving mayors in the Philippines, serving seven terms totaling more than 22 years in office.

Duterte’s political success has been aided by his vocal support for the extrajudicial killing of drug users and criminals.[10] Human rights groups have documented over 1,400 killings allegedly by vigilante groups occurring in Davao between 1998 and May 2016; the victims were mainly drug users, petty criminals and street children.[11] Duterte has alternately confirmed and denied his involvement in the killings.[12] A January 2016 decision by the Office of the Ombudsman on the alleged death squad in Davao between 2005 and 2009 found “no evidence to support ‘the killings attributed or attributable to the Davao Death Squad much less the involvement of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte”.[13] Duterte has repeatedly confirmed that he personally killed three kidnapping suspects while Mayor of Davao in 1988.[14][15]

On May 9, 2016, Duterte won the Philippine presidential election with 38.5% of the votes,[16] after a campaign in which he promised to defeat crime by killing tens of thousands of criminals.[17] His domestic policy has focused on combating illegal drug trade by initiating the Philippine Drug War. Following criticism from United Nations human rights experts that extrajudicial killings had increased since the election, he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the UN and form a new organization with China and African nations.[18] He has vowed to pursue an “independent foreign policy”.[19]

Extrajudicial killings

See also: Davao Death Squad

Duterte, who has been dubbed “The Punisher” by Time magazine,[49] has been linked by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to extrajudicial killings of over 1,400 alleged criminals and street children by vigilante death squads.[10][50] In the April 2009 UN General Assembly of the Human Rights Council, the UN report (Eleventh Session Agenda item 3, par 21) said, “The Mayor of Davao City has done nothing to prevent these killings, and his public comments suggest that he is, in fact, supportive.”[51] Human Rights Watch reported that in 2001–2002, Duterte appeared on local television and radio and announced the names of “criminals”, some of whom were later executed.[52] In July 2005 at a crime summit at the Manila Hotel, Duterte said, “Summary execution of criminals remains the most effective way to crush kidnapping and illegal drugs”.[53]

Duterte has denied responsibility for the extrajudicial killings. He has also frequently announced his support for them. According to Reuters, “Duterte’s loud approval for hundreds of execution-style killings of drug users and criminals over nearly two decades helped propel him to the highest office of a crime-weary land.”[10] In 2009 Duterte said: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”[54] In 2015, Duterte confirmed his links to extrajudicial killings in Davao, and warned that, if elected president, he may kill up to 100,000 criminals. After the said confirmation, Duterte challenged human rights officials to file a case against him if they could provide evidence to his links with vigilante groups.[55] Following a December 1 phone call between Donald Trump and Duterte, the latter said Trump wished him “success,” in his war on drugs, and looked forward to his visiting Washington in 2017. An estimated 4,800 persons had been killed in the preceding six months.[56]

Media killings

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with 174 assassinations recorded since the Marcos dictatorship. In a press conference on 31 May 2016, Duterte said that “Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong.” He appeared to announce his support for killing “corrupt” journalists: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch”.

At the press conference where Duterte announced this, he wolf-whistled at a female journalist when she asked a question.[89] At a news conference on the following day he defended his comments and refused to apologise, telling reporters, “I cannot protect you”. He has been criticized by foreign and domestic media organizations regarding his comments.[90] The Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists said: “What he has done with these irresponsible comments is give security officials the right to kill for acts that they consider defamation. This is one of the most outrageous statements we have ever heard from a president in the Philippines.”[91]

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom, stated in October 2016 that major newspapers and television stations have not critically analyzed Duterte’s policies, because “they fear him. They basically are afraid to be singled out.”[92]

Domestic policy

Anti-drug campaign

Main article: Philippine Drug War

In the first three months of Duterte’s term in office, according to police figures, over 3,000 killings were attributed to his nationwide anti-drug campaign. More than half were attributed to vigilantes. At the beginning of October, a senior police offi

2016, Amnesty International stated there is “little evidence” of this; according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the prevalence of drug use in the country is lower than the global average.[94] He has dismissed the UN’s human rights concerns by dehumanizing drug users, stating in August 2016: “Crime against humanity? In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being?”[95] Despite the controversial war on Drugs, Duterte public approval remains at over 80% as of October 2016.[96]

 

On October 18–21, 2016, Duterte visited Beijing to meet with Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. While announcing his “separation” from the United States in front of Chinese and Filipino businessmen at the Philippines–China Trade and Investment Forum in Beijing on October 20, Duterte also said that he would realign himself with the Chinese ideological flow and that he might also travel to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin to “tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines, and Russia.”[151][152]

On September 30, 2016, Duterte appeared to compare the killings of suspected drug addicts to the Holocaust saying: “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. … I’d be happy to slaughter them.”[216] His remarks drew international outrage particularly from the Jewish Communities. World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder condemned the statement,[217] as did the Anti-Defamation League.[218] Israeli Foreign Ministry also condemned his remarks while the German government slammed Duterte’s comments as unacceptable, and called in the Philippine ambassador to the Foreign Ministry over the matter.[219][220][221] On October 2 he apologized to the Jewish community.[222] When listening to the full conference,[223][224] he was in fact referring to the accusation of genocide by lawyers of the European Union who wanted him to face the International Court of Justice and, as Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella explained, that it “was an oblique reflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, a label he rejects”.[225]

In September 2016, Duterte said that the United States has not even apologized to the Philippines for its atrocities during the Philippine–American War. In October 2016, Duterte continued his tirade against the US and the European Union saying in Tagalog that “Mr. Obama, you can go to hell. EU, better choose purgatory. Hell is already full. Why should I be afraid of you?”

 

Homelessness & Street Children in the Philippines

Manila, Philippines has the highest homelessness rate in the world. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reports that this city has 70,000 dispossessed people on its streets. The commission also reports that the entire country has a distressing 1,200,000 children living on the streets. These children are faced with numerous problems including the abuse of drugs such as marijuana, shabu and cough syrups, health problems due to the deplorable conditions in which they live in, child prostitution by pedophiles and foreign sex tourists, and the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Recently, when the pope was visiting the country, numerous street children were rounded up and locked in cages. Authorities supported the inhumane act arguing that it was done to prevent gangs of beggars from approaching the pope.

According to a 1998 report titled “Situation of the Youth in the Philippines”, there were about 1.5 million street children in the Philippines.[1][not in citation given]

Statistics[edit]

The approximate numbers of street children in the different districts[clarification needed] of the Philippines are: Manila (3,266), Quezon (2,867), Caloocan (1,530), and Pasay (1,420). Regional numbers are:

  • Luzon regional totals: 1,557 (highly visible), 22,728 (estimated total)
  • Visayas regional totals: 5,291 (highly visible), 40,860 (estimated total) and
  • Mindanao regional totals: 22,556 (highly visible), 138,328(estimated total).

Approximately 70% of the children are boys.

Defining Filipino street children[edit]

According to the “A Better Life” foundation, there are three different categories of street children:

  • Children on the streetsmake up approximately 75% of the street children in the Philippines. They work on the streets but do not live there. They generally have a home to return to after working, and some even continue to attend school while working long hours on the streets.
  • Children of the streetmake their homes on the street. They make up 25%-30% of the street children in the Philippines. They often create a sort of family with their fellow street children. Some of them still have family ties, but may either rarely tend to them or view them negatively.
  • Completely abandoned childrenhave no family ties and are entirely on their own for physical and psychological survival. They make up approximately 5%-10% of the street children in the Philippines.[2][3]

Problems facing street children[edit]

Drugs[edit]

The most common substances are inhalants, such as solvents, rugby (a toluene-based glue) and cough syrups, followed by marijuana and shabu. Marijuana and shabus in particular are shared with friends whenever one of the group has enough money to buy them. Some street children take drugs as often as once a day.[2]

Health problems[edit]

Street children are generally thin, untidy, undernourished, and hardly equipped to survive the hazards of everyday living and working on the streets. Some of the hazards they face include sickness, physical injuries from motor accidents, street fights, harassment from extortionists and police, sexual exploitation by pedophiles and pimps, exposure to substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.[2]

Summary execution of street children[edit]

Many street children were in danger of summary execution during the Marcos Government era.[4] In 2005, a report found that 39 children in Davao City had been killed by vigilante groups since 2001, most after having been released from police detention cells.[5]

Human rights groups said the killings have become an unwritten government policy to deal with crime, largely because of an ineffective criminal justice system and the tendency of the authorities to take shortcuts in the administration of justice. The execution-style killings are openly endorsed by local officials, strengthening the long-running suspicion that the death squads were formed by the government.[6]

Child prostitution[edit]

Child prostitutes are used by foreign sex tourists and pedophiles, as well as local people. Many street children are lured into prostitution as a means of survival, while others do it to earn money for their families. A variety of different factors contribute to the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines.[7][further explanation needed]

Rooted in poverty, as elsewhere, the problem of child prostitution in Angeles was exacerbated in the 1980s by Clark Air Base, where bars employed children who ended up as sex workers for American soldiers.[8] Street children are at particular risk because many of the 200 brothels in Angeles offer children for sex.[9] According to 1996 statistics of the Philippine Resource Network, 60,000 of the 1.5 million street children in the Philippines were prostituted.[10]

Sexual exploitation[edit]

Angeles Police had to rescue 36 children as young as six from Fields Avenue. Myrna Latorre, Chief of the Women’s and Children’s Section of the Angeles Police, said that the rescued children were brought to the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD), and that most of them were sent to the Bahay Bata Center, an institution taking care of orphans and abused children. The rest, she said, were taken to Haven, a government rehabilitation center in Magalang, Pampanga, run by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).[11] A 13-year-old child was trafficked into a brothel in Angeles where she had to service up to 15 individuals every night. [12]

HIV/AIDS and STDs[edit]

There is no HIV testing for children in the Philippines, but approximately 18% of the street children contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs).[7]

 

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Run 97 : Papua New Guinea – Port Moresby

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 22nd January, 2017

Time :  58’ 44”

Total distance run to date : 970 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1543565159

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office – to give it its full title – operates a travel advice website. It covers every country in the world and subjects ranging from safety and terrorism through to entry requirements and local health issues. Created primarily for Brits, it’s a great resource for any would be traveller.

I use it a lot to research the 3 Vs that hang over my travels : visas, viruses and violence. The concern in Papua New Guinea is violence.

The Foreign Office advice is stark : “Serious crime is particularly high in the capital, Port Moresby. Settlement or squatter areas of towns and cities are particularly dangerous. ’Bush knives’ (machetes) and firearms are often used in assaults and thefts. Carjacking, assault (including sexual assaults), bag snatching and robberies are common. Walking after dark is particularly dangerous in Port Moresby and other urban centres.”

As a general rule, the Foreign Office (understandably) takes a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to their advice. I quite often arrive somewhere to be told that it’s not as bad as its reputation.

Papua New Guinea was the opposite. The closer I got, the more worried everyone was. When I told people in Guam I was going to PNG, everybody grimaced and told me to be careful. One person told me that there was still cannibalism in in PNG. I assumed she was winding me up. “No. I’m a sociology student and we’ve just studied PNG as part of a Pacific cultures course. They still have cannibalism”.

I was travelling to the capital, Port Moresby, where there probably wasn’t much risk of me being bundled into a cooking pot (no doubt to then hear my would be eaters complaining that wasn’t enough fat on me to make a good stew). My risk came from the local criminal gangs – known as the Raskols. ‘Raskol’ is a pidgin English word derived from the English word ‘rascal’. It makes the gangs sound naughty but endearing. The reality is anything but.

This from Wikipedia : “Over the years, raskol gang activities have evolved from opportunistic incidents of small scale theft or breaking and entering to more organised criminal activity including serving as middlemen in the marijuana trade both within PNG and between PNG and Australia, as well as becoming increasingly politicised as the instrument of various political powers. The growth of squatter settlements in Port Moresby have led to a corresponding increase in the number and size of raskol gangs. Crimes such as rape, murder, and carjacking are common in a city that has a 60 percent unemployment rate.”

In urban areas, Raskol gangs often require would be members to rape women as part of their initiation. Wikipedia also includes the following chilling paragraph : “Peter Moses, one of the leaders of the “Dirty Dons 585” Raskol gang (picture above), stated that raping women was a “must” for the young members of the gang. In rural areas, when a boy wants to become a man, he may go to an enemy village and kill a pig to be accepted as an adult, while in the cities “women have replaced pigs”. Moses, who claims to have raped more than 30 women himself, said, “And it is better if a boy kills her afterwards, there will be less problems with the police”. (Papua New Guinea is often ranked as the worst place in the world for violence against women ; the rape statistics are sickening.)

Small wonder that a contact in PGN emailed me to say, “We strongly advise expatriates coming to Port Moresby never to walk the streets and especially at night and again, to always use a Security Company for transport & escort services.” And “I can only recommend that you don’t run on the roads. Hate to see you targeted. Even those expats who go out on their bikes have a security escort.”

Graham, the incredibly helpful manager at the Holiday Inn express, (picture below) took a more sanguine view. He thought it would be safe to run into town.

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I decided to compromise. I would run into town – but make sure I completed the run and got back to the hotel while it was still light. And so it was that I set off at about 4pm.

Which is not a good time to run in Papua New Guinea as it’s still pretty hot. The best time to run would have been early morning but as I’d landed that morning at 6 am, after a largely sleepless night, that hadn’t really been an option. (By the way, thank you Holiday Inn for the early check-in.)

After about 2 1/2 km, I was feeling pretty cooked and the road ahead looked as if it climbed for the foreseeable future. There was flattish road off to the left. I ummed and aahed for a bit about which way to go, all the time thinking that standing still on a street corner looking at a map might not be a good idea. I went left. It meant turning off Graham’s recommended route but I was already done in and just couldn’t face the hill.

It wasn’t just the heat affecting me. Anyone who’s read the other blogs from my Pacific trip will know that I was really struggling physically. And, if I’m honest, I was probably a little bit afraid and that may have been sapping my strength.

For whatever reason, I was finding the run extraordinarily tough. When it came to the next hill, I thought, for the first time, about giving up. Not giving up on the run in question. I often think about that. But giving up on the whole crazy, crushingly knackering scheme to run 10km in every country in the world.

I’d just had enough of the running, of the endless travel, of the sweaty moments at borders, of the lack of sleep, of the time differences, of the heat, of being told I had cancer. Of everything.

Every inch of my body was screaming at me to stop.

‘You can’t do that’, said an inner voice. ‘How could you live with yourself? And what about all the people who’ve donated and supported you?’

‘I’ve got cancer, isn’t that excuse enough’, said the scumbag side of my mind.

‘You should be ashamed of yourself, trying to hide behind your cancer’, responded whatever was left of my integrity. ‘They caught it early. You’ll probably be fine. Now get on with it’.

Feeling duly ashamed of myself, I plodded on. I can vividly remember the rest of the run but I don’t think it would make for good reading. Just one long – seemingly endless – battle to keep moving. Without my rule of finishing the 10km within an hour, I would almost certainly have succumbed to the overwhelming desire to walk rather than run.

Finally the torture came to an end. By now I was at Ela Beach. Graham’s advice had been to head for the Crowne Plaza hotel at the end of the run and ask for a taxi. The hotel was up a 200m hill. Not far by any standard. But I couldn’t make it in one go. I had to stop and rest half way up.

Eventually, I stumbled into the hotel and asked them to call me a taxi. But none of their usual taxi firms were working (it being a Sunday afternoon). They could see I was pretty nervous about wandering around on the street looking for a taxi. So they got out the hotel van and their driver drove me back to the Holiday Inn. For free.

Port Moresby has a reputation as a seriously scary place. The reason there are no photos from the run is that I didn’t dare take out my phone in public.

But it’s also the capital of a seriously beautiful country with, by all accounts, an amazing diversity of cultures and flora and fauna. And, at least in my experience, a number of exceptionally kind and helpful people.

The Facts & Stats

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its south-eastern coast, is Port Moresby. (The western half of New Guinea belongs to Indonesia.)

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. There are 852 known languages in the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers. Most of the population of more than 7 million people live in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. It is also one of the most rural, as only 18 percent of its people live in urban centres. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically. It is known to have numerous groups of uncontacted peoples, and researchers believe there are many undiscovered species of plants and animals in the interior.

Papua New Guinea is classified as a developing economy by the International Monetary Fund. Strong growth in Papua New Guinea’s mining and resource sector led to the country becoming the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world in 2011. Nearly 40 percent of the population lives a self-sustainable natural lifestyle with no access to global capital.

Most of the people still live in strong traditional social groups based on farming. Their social lives combine traditional religion with modern practices, including primary education. These societies and clans are explicitly acknowledged by the Papua New Guinea Constitution, which expresses the wish for “traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society” and protects their continuing importance to local and national community life.

At the national level, after being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975. This followed nearly 60 years of Australian administration. It became an independent Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for Papua New Guinea – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                        7 619k                 2015                5 374k             2000

GDP                                                    $16.93 billion    2014                 $3.25 billion  2000

GNI per capita                                  $2240                 2014                 $620               2000

% below poverty line                      39.9%                 2009                 NA

Life expectancy at birth                 62.6 years          2014                 58.8 years     2000

Primary school enrolment*           60.5%                 2009                 71%                2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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