Yesterday I had the privilege of joining Freedom Runners Mimi Anderson and Samantha Gash on the 29th day of their incredible 32-day, +2 000km run from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl, in South Africa.
I last saw Mimi and Samantha when they were in Cape Town, three days before they began their feat. They were bursting with excitement, laced with a hint of apprehension over what the challenge might throw at them. Being experienced with ultra distances and multi-day running in all sorts of conditions, they took on this challenge well aware that ahead of them lay the unknown, the only certainties being the basics of their route (rather than what that route entailed), the mileage they had to cover, and their shared determination to complete the challenge.
The mission of their run was clear: to raise as much as they possibly could to set up a social enterprise that will empower women in a rural community in the Free State to make reusable sanitary pads, enabling young girls to be free to continue their schooling without the interruption of their monthly periods.
|The crew, aka "Cafe Boys Boys Boys" in action|
The Freedom Run had been two years in the planning - from identifying their mission and carefully selecting the rural community for the pilot project, plotting the route and scheming the logistics with the help of the team behind the Freedom Challenge, to sourcing their wonderful crew who would give more than a month of their lives to slog, sweat over and serve Mimi and Sam for the duration of the Freedom Run.
The training these two wonder women had to do was the easy part of their preparation - it was organising everything that was the difficult part.
Stepping into Mimi and Samantha's world for a day almost a month after they'd started was in some ways like peeking 10 chapters on in a novel when you've only read the preface. In the preface to this book, the girls had looked fresh and bouncy, eager to face the unknown of the weeks ahead. Now, seeing them 10 chapters on, they looked so different - both very thin, drawn and somewhat weathered from running for 29 continuous days in the harsh African sun.
|Sam and Mimi near Montagu, Western Cape|
But as tired as they seemed on the outside, these two incredible women were still bursting with vigour and vitality within, more determined than ever to keep to their strict schedule, with the end goal being to help enable communities of young girls - girls that they will most likely never meet - to attend school for the education they need to have a decent future.
On Saturday Mimi and Sam will complete the Freedom Run, having covered more than 47 back-to-back marathons in 32 days, over 2 000km without even a single rest day. They've endured their fair share of icy starts and minus temperatures, of blasting sun through blistering days, of high winds and slamming rain; they've slogged on mountain trails 2 750m above sea level, waded across rivers, and whacked their way through reed beds. Together they've laughed, cried, winced and sweated their way across a vast chunk of our beautiful country, two non-South Africans with a determined dream to change the lives of those they can.
Here's a quick synopsis of why the Freedom Run is critical:
- In South Africa, one in 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 miss out on 4-5 days of school a month due to their periods. This shouldn't have to be!
- Commercially produced disposable sanitary pads are too expensive for most schoolgirls in Africa.
- A girl missing 4 days of school every 28 days due to her period loses the equivalent of 8 weeks of school per year. Falling behind in lessons inevitably means they end up dropping out of school.
- 60% of girls and women in South Africa don’t have access to feminine hygiene products. Instead, they make a plan, often using rags, cloth or bits of newspaper.
The project will also provide ongoing education on health and hygiene for girls and women, as well as life skills training workshops for parents.
Show your support for the Freedom Run and what it stands for by becoming a part of the solution: click on the donate tab on this link: Save The Children Freedom Run