Unique African marathon offers hope to street children

The Kiln Sierra Leone Marathon has been billed the “craziest and most worthwhile” marathon in the world and last year raised £320,000 to help the thousands of street children in the country

There’s something stirring in Makeni. Here, in Sierra Leone’s largest city, thousands of street children are now being reunited with their families and given access to education.

This welcome change is all thanks to a small, voluntary-led charity, Street Child, and the runners who are brave enough to take on the charity’s challenging but hugely rewarding fundraising event, the Kiln Sierra Leone Marathon, now in its second year.

“I’m not aware of another marathon like it,” says race director, Lewis Aldridge. “The London Marathon is a fabulous race, with a lot of people raising money for different charities. But here it is totally integrated, with runners seeing the projects – and the children who will benefit from their fundraising – first-hand, before they run.”

The majority of this 26-mile course runs along hard mud roads and red dirt tracks, snaking through some of Sierra Leone’s most beautiful scenery. Occasionally, the trail changes to tarred, urban terrain as runners course their way through the more developed parts of Makeni in humid 33C heat. Local families line the roads to wave runners on – sometimes they’ll join in to show their thanks and support.

“It’s a fantastic challenge. The race itself is a personal challenge, but what really makes a difference is that most of the people taking part, everybody involved in it, are all raising money for the same charity,” adds Aldridge.

“The race itself is a personal challenge, but what really makes a difference is that most of the people taking part, everybody involved in it, are all raising money for the same charity”

“There is a real sense of camaraderie with the community all getting involved in some way – it’s emotional, it’s rewarding, it’s a big event,” he says.

This year’s race, held on 26 May 2013, is going to be even bigger, with Sierra Leone’s first lady Sia Nyama Koroma set to make an appearance and Olympic athlete Ibrahim Turay planning to take part.

Although racing for charity is not a new concept, this new breed of race fundraising is really working: “Unusually for fundraising, what we saw last year was after the race, there was a huge increase in funding coming in as soon as runners came back home and people saw photographs of where they had been, and the children and families they’d run for – it has a real impact,” says Aldridge.

There is no minimum cash requirement to enter the Kiln Sierra Leone Marathon, although most runners do aim to raise around £1,000. Travellers’ packages, including accommodation, two meals per day and visits to Street Child projects to meet the children and families whose lives the fundraising will transform, range from £299 for three nights to £899 for five nights with a £100 deposit. Runners can extend their stay to seven nights with ‘add-on’ visits available to Street Child Makeni centres, rural areas and the beach, from £99.

Street Child was founded with self-funding in 2008 by Tom Dannatt, son of General Sir Richard Dannatt who led the British army into Sierra Leone to stop the rebel uprising in 2002.

Last year the charity raised £1m, with the first Kiln Sierra Leone Marathon raising £320,000 of that, and all proceeds going to help the 50,000 children living rough on Sierra Leone’s streets. Since 2008, according to Street Child it has reunited more than 2,000 street children with their families, while a further 3,000 have been given access to education.

Renowned explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is also a fan of the charity, noting on its website that: “It’s a great thing to be able to do something exciting, challenging and worthwhile; the Sierra Leone Marathon is all of these.”