I’m back in the UK! And boy do I have some wicked stories to tell! My recent trip to Sierra Leone was an absolute game changer for so many reasons. I took on my first ever FULL MARATHON, immersed myself in local culture, learnt about the incredible projects Street Child charity have been working on, and met so many like-minded inspirational human beings.
There is no way I can fit all my memories into just one blog post so I expect this will be the first in a series of several.
When I arrived at the airport totally alone last Wednesday I was excited, bursting with energy, and a little bit nervous let’s be honest. I had no idea what to expect from Sierra Leone and I’d never been on a plane all by myself before. The first flight from Gatwick to Casablanca couldn’t have been more pleasant. Not sure why I was even worried. I sat next to a hilarious little Moroccan man who kept trying to offer me sweets, whizzed my way through half a novel, and ate some questionable plane food (chicken???), before arriving safe and sound at the half way point. At security my nerves were instantly put at ease when I spotted a few other runners. We formed a tribe and set up camp in the departures lounge for our 7 hour stop over. We bonded by sharing our passions, careers, favourite books and disgust for the aforementioned, questionable plane food. Within a matter of hours I felt like I’d been friends with these people for years and we were taking silly photos and building human pyramids. I knew this was going to be an incredible trip.
One man, named Josh, an ardent supporter of the charity Street Child, had been visiting the country for many years and was keen to share his stories along with Roz, an ultra-marathon runner, and Alex, a graduate of Oxford, who had also been to Sierra Leone before. Just watching their faces light up as they spoke about the adventure we were about to embark on, and the beautiful people we’d meet, made me more excited than ever.
Also in our tribe was Natalie, a vet with a heart of gold, and Matt an Australian/South African, who charmed us all with his hilarious antics. You see Matt likes to read standing up. Something which we later all tested as delirium began to kick in.
At around midnight we were joined by more runners who’d flown in from Heathrow and I was reunited with my friend Hannah; the legend who introduced me to this project!
Next up was our flight from Casablanca to Freetown – Sierra Leone. More questionable plane food at 2am but altogether a huge success. When we finally arrived in Freetown the skies greeted us with a torrential storm. Rain turned the red roads to slush and to be honest the cooler air was a welcome relief. June see’s the arrival of the rainy season in Sierra Leone. That’s rain all day every day for 4 months!! So this was the sky warming up for the season ahead.
BUT after collecting our luggage we were told that our bus was delayed! 3 hours later we were crammed into a mini bus and set off for the final leg of our journey. On the bus I met a few more awesome runners including Sorrel, a secret marathon winner who would later go on to win first international woman during Sunday’s big race. After rocking in and out of sleep like rag dolls we finally arrived at our hotel in the town of Makeni. Pleasantly surprised we had a bucket shower, a huge bed and a fan! I was more than happy with my cheap and cheerful new home.
We were given an hour to shower and get ready for our day. No rest for the wicked! Day one and two were basically one big old day.
Day Two Kinda
Slightly “refreshed” we hopped back into a mini bus and were given a big bottle of water – liquid gold to a heavily dehydrated traveller – and baguettes. Convinced my stomach was about to eat itself, I devoured the baguette in a matter of minutes before we arrived at the Street Child centre in the heart of Makeni.
A local social worker with a smile that stretched from ear to ear, introduced us to the local Street Child projects. We walked through the town markets and residential areas and learnt about Street Child’s Family Business Schemes. With next to no money Street Child have been able to help struggling families set up market stalls and create their own income. One of the most incredible beneficiaries we met was a grandmother with 8 grandchildren. The children’s parents were killed during the Ebola crisis so the grandmother was left with no choice but to look after all these children, when she was barely strong enough to look after herself. Street Child helped her set up a business selling onions and chilli peppers in the market. It seems crazy to us but this initial support has helped the grandmother send the children to school and keep them safe and healthy. Onions and chilli peppers is all it took to save them!
The markets had an incredible atmosphere! Everywhere we looked people were smiling and waving, shouting “Apotto” – which translates quite literally to “white people”. We were greeted like old friends and I was so overwhelmed by how welcoming the locals were as they invited us to see all their market stalls. The children followed us through the streets, holding our hands, and leading us safely through the chaos. But what struck me most was the vibrancy of these people, their lives so simple, their aura’s so content and carefree.
When my head finally hit the pillow that night I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to live in safe home. Lucky to be educated, healthy and secure. I will never take these necessities for granted again.
If you’d like to support the Family Business Schemes created by Street Child, helping keep broken families afloat, any donations to my page https://sierraleonemarathon2016.everydayhero.com/uk/sophiesierraleone would be so appreciated and make the world of difference. Just think how little an onion costs!
See you soon for the next instalment of my adventure!
Lots of love,