Charity marathon launched in Norwich, run in Africa and beating ebola.
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015
A marathon, begun in Norwich and run in Africa, could be the start of a country's recovery from the ravages of Ebola, writes ROWAN MANTELL
A 26-mile race is to be launched in Norwich – and run more than 4,200 miles away.
Runners in Norfolk are being asked to sign up for the Sierra Leone marathon, which takes place in West Africa in October, but is organised by a charity founded by Norwich man Tom Dannatt.
Over the past three years runners have raised more than £1m for the charity Street Child, which works with the poorest children in one of the poorest countries in the world.
This year the need is greater than ever as Sierra Leone begins recovering from the devastation of Ebola. And, for the first time, the Sierra Leone marathon is being launched in Norfolk.
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One of the people already signed up is Norwich vicar the Rev Dave Lloyd. He is a trustee of Street Child and ran the half-marathon distance in Sierra Leone in 2012 (the first-ever Sierra Leone marathon) and, with his wife Anna, in 2013.
In October he hopes to do it again.
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'I had never run a marathon or a half-marathon before, although I have done a kayak marathon,' he said. 'I'm not a runner really. But this was incredible.
'It starts really early in the morning, just as the sun comes up, because of the heat and humidity. You run through villages and rain forest. A marathon in the UK is about running the distance, but in Sierra Leone it's about the whole experience. There is so much going on around you. The crowds are very loud and vibrant. Little children run alongside and point and laugh because they think it's mad, all of these white people running. But they know it's for Street Child so they thank you too.'
He admitted that he had been worried he would not be able to cope with the heat or the distance the first time he took part but said: 'I'm worry-free this time. I have seen Tom visit Sierra Leone so many times, even through the worst of the Ebola.
'The country is very nearly Ebola free now and by October I'm sure it will be Ebola free.'
More than 11,000 people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Liberia was declared Ebola free in May, but the outbreak is not yet officially over in Sierra Leone or Guinea, which have to record six weeks without a case before the country can be declared free of the disease.
However, the organisers of the Street Child Sierra Leone marathon expect the country to be ebola-free by October and want to be in a position to hold the fund-raising marathon as soon as it is safe to do so. All the money raised will go to support Ebola orphans.
'It's not just giving them food and shelter but it's providing education, a future. Street Child doesn't run orphanages, it doesn't create dependency. It finds stable families for street children to move into, and supports those families with business packages,' said Dave.
He is one of three vicars of St Thomas' Church, in Earlham Road, Norwich, and has just moved to the vicarage of St Alban's Church in nearby Grove Walk, with his wife and two children.
He moved to Norwich two years ago, but met Tom when they were both studying theology at Oxford. 'He was always talking to me about Africa and I was really impressed,' said Dave.
Both men then found themselves living and working close to each other in London – Dave as a solicitor and Tom running a recruitment company. Tom, the son of General the Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of British armed forces, launched his Street Child with profits from his business.
Dave also changed careers.
'At 16 I had felt a bit of a call, but I never really wanted to be a vicar so I managed to ignore it for a time!' he explained. 'But I had a sense I was running on about 30pc of who I was meant to be.
'Then I met my wife, and her father was a vicar. I hadn't met that many vicars before, but he encouraged me and I realised it was only a matter of time before I became one too!'
On Thursday, July 9, Dave will be at The Forum in Norwich, hoping to inspire people to join him at the start line of the Sierra Leone marathon.
Tom last visited Sierra Leone in May, and will be returning tomorrow. 'Ebola is vastly reduced,' he said. 'From a peak of 500 cases a week in all corners of the country, it is now around 10 cases a week, mainly in remote villages where the basic safety messages have still not been taken on.'
But he said more than 12,000 children lost parents or other key adults. 'Ebola will leave Sierra Leone, hopefully forever, at some point in the coming weeks. But these children's parents are also gone forever...
'Street Child, and this marathon, are about helping as many of these children and families as possible.'
It is an experience of a lifetime! And this year, more than any other, it is so important. We would love to have as many as possible join us this October!'
NEW CHURCH FOR FAMILY MAN
The Rev Dave Lloyd, his wife Anna, and their children, seven-year-old Georgia and four-year-old Zachary, have just moved to the vicarage of St Alban's church in Norwich.
Dave is a vicar of St Thomas, Earlham Road, and said the new church will become
a second site, with a focus on midweek ministry and outreach, particularly to young people, and the sports and arts communities. A drop-in café and a Sunday afternoon family service are already planned.
'The vision is church for people who perhaps don't do church,' said Dave.
St Thomas church already has a reputation for spreading the gospel in new and imaginative ways. Last Christmas a spoof of the John Lewis penguin advertisement, starring little Zachary and designed to get people to consider the real meaning of the festival, went viral and the little boy found himself featuring on the national news.
'He's sort of famous in Norwich,' laughed Dave, 'But we do a video of church news every week and he didn't know the difference between that and being on television!'
For more information on the new initiatives at St Alban's visit www.stthomasnorwich.org
LAUNCHED IN NORWICH, RUN IN SIERRA LEONE
Described as the 'world's craziest and most worthwhile marathon,' by Runners World, the fourth Street Child Sierra Leone marathon will raise money to support ebola orphans.
Runners will be able to choose between the full marathon, or a half marathon, 10k or 5k race.
The route takes in some of the most beautiful scenery of northern Sierra Leone, and begins at a Street Child project in the town of Makeni.
Runners will include local people as well as supporters of Street Child from Britain and facilities include regular water stations and fixed and mobile medical support.
Runners need to cover their costs and are then encouraged to raise least £1,000 each.
Just £250 can give an ebola-affected child a new family home and will fund school fees, counselling and support, and the grant that families can receive to help them set up a small business to support their children.
The October 24 marathon is also designed to show that Sierra Leone is open for business as it rebuilds its economy and communities.
The programme for participants also includes visits to communities which have been affected by ebola, meeting some of the children and families their sponsorship money is supporting, and the chance to relax on the stunning white beaches of the Freetown peninsular.
The first ever Sierra Leone marathon was run just four years ago and the most recent in May last year, just before ebola took hold.
Street Child was founded by Norwich father-of-four Tom Dannatt to find families and school places for the children, and help the households set up small enterprises to provide money and work.
The charity later expanded into neighbouring Liberia and Guinea, and Tom's sister-in-law Chloe, who grew up in Hingham now heads its work in Liberia.
In its first six years Street Child helped more than 20,000 children.
The Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon is launched on Thursday, July 9, in The Curve at Norwich Forum from 6-8pm.www.sierraleonemarathon.com