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Matthew Green was an ICS International Team Leader in Kayunga District, Uganda

Before going on placement I was worried about many things, but one of my more unusual worries was how I was going to keep fit. I’m a keen runner, regularly running 4-6 times per week, with my feet set on completing a marathon this year.

I was worried that it might not be possible for me to do much running on placement; you don’t always have the time and we also needed to consider our safety and our profile in the community.

I was so pleased that during my first few days living at my host home, my host brother Abdul, aged 18, seemed very interested in going running with me. I’d told him about my usual training and showed him and the family a few pictures of the half marathon I had done in the weeks before I travelled to Uganda. I also told him about how running made me feel fit and healthy and how it also helped me feel positive.

So after approval from our in-country team, we identified some safe routes for us to use and agreed that we would get up early so we wouldn’t attract attention. We started running together on weekends and some weekdays when he didn’t have to help Mama out in the shop too early or didn’t have too many chores.

It wasn’t always easy! It was hot and there were lots of hills, but over time we both became less out of breath and talked more! We got to know each other as we talked about all sorts of different things. I got to know all sorts of insights about the local community and the challenges for young people.  

Abdul said that he had been feeling fitter and more positive now he’d become a runner. I’d get back from a run animated and energised! My counterpart Dan (who tried running with me once but decided it really wasn’t for him) suggested we find a way to get more people involved.

Registering runners for the Kangulumira Mini Marathon

Our team had done a number of community events, including sports and health days for young people in school, so we had an idea. Why not put on a running event? What about a race? So the idea for the Kangulumira Mini Marathon was born!

With the support of our volunteers, programme officer and amazing in-country staff we set about making preparations for a 5km community race that would bring people together to have fun, learn about the benefits of exercise for a healthy life and maybe win a prize!

There were a few challenges. We had to make sure everyone would be safe (we had cyclists at the front and back and marshalls along the course, plus water stations so people wouldn’t get dehydrated). For the prizes we settled on some useful kitchenware for the first man and woman and some other small prizes too. Everyone who took part got something!

The biggest challenge is how we would get people to come. This is always a concern when organising an event anywhere in the world. My counterpart Dan mobilised key young people in the community to take part themselves and mobilise their friends and family too! He was so successful with mobilising that we had to delay the start of the race whilst more and more runners turned up.

Warming up before the race

The atmosphere was brilliant. Lots of people in the community turned up to watch and we blasted out music to get everyone excited and energised before we kicked off! Our guest of honour was a local health care professional who gave a talk to the runners before the race about how exercise plays an important part in a healthy life- he even took part in the race, though said he found it a little bit too far for him!

One of the most exciting moments was when the race started.

A volunteer took a picture showing all of us running off, some fast, some slow, but all together just running off into the distance! Of course, I started really fast but soon got much much slower (though I tried to speed up as I went past all the people watching!) It wasn’t about winning or losing though, but genuinely about taking part.

The start line

We had almost 50 runners take part, including the patron of one of our school’s SRHR club. It was one of my favourite days on placement.

I felt very lucky that I had not only been able to keep fit but also been able to share my love of running, first with Abdul and then with many more people in our community. The teamwork and support that went into planning a completely new event was extremely rewarding. One of the great things about being on an ICS placement is that together you can take ideas (even if they’re just about running) and make them into real things.

And they’re off!

Abdul and I still talk about running on WhatsApp and I’m so pleased that he’s still getting some miles in. My counterpart Dan still hasn’t quite become a runner, but he’s doing amazing things for the sport by organising more ‘mini-marathons’ on his most recent ICS placement.

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