Uganda 2.0 - from the other side

It’s unbelievable, a year passed since I went to Uganda to run my 21K. And so much happened since then… I knew I wanted to go back, some time, some way , I had to. So, with Levi we signed up last October as runners again for the Uganda Marathon - 2018. When we found out about the opportunity to actually work with the team instead, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. HEAD OF RUNNER HAPPINESS, isn’t it the best job title you can get? And the work started in January, my role was to communicate with all the runners - lots of emails, huge spreadsheets, just what I do every day, however different in so many ways. Few months passed by and I was on the plane to Uganda in the middle of May, to be ready for welcoming the runners. I even had a stopover in Nairobi with a short safari in the National Park near the airport. Thanks for Kenya Airways , who needed promotion and I was lucky enough to be able to accept the offer of a free trip to meet buffaloes, giraffes, rhinos and elephants for a start. As the sun’s rising in Kenya and I was having breakfast in the middle of the park looking at the buffaloes , I realized that I’m back to Africa, the place I wished so much to be back to. I love it there. Actually, there was a moment earlier I realized this, when I went through the terminal and I saw a bird. I thought it was kind of a sparrow, then it got closer and … no, it’s just a butterfly. Yep, I’m definitely in Africa.

The work has begun, the team’s getting larger each day, until we had the “Dream Team” together , everyone who we needed to make this experience unforgettable. We worked long hours, but it was so much fun with these guys, I found so much love and respect there and I feel I made friends for life. I loved the mornings in Masaka. It’s quiet, you can hear the birds only, misty and smoky, but I like this smell. It’s the smell of rural Africa.

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The new Athletes village was born a couple of days before the runners arrival and we tried out the brand new bar, we built of plastic bottles and bamboo sticks.  Originally it’s a recycling collection point, kind of a container for plastic bottles to be recycled. But come on, it made the best bar table too!  I had my birthday on that day and since it’s not my 21st , I didn’t really mention it to anyone. But these lovely people got a surprise cake for me after dinner and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me , it was a wonderful feeling . It was one of the best birthdays ever.

Meeting the runners finally was very exciting, I had some good guesses about them, so I couldn’t wait to find out what they are really like. I have to say it was a pleasant surprise in some cases. I was the leader of the Mmamba Clan with 8 enthusiastic runners. Mmamba means lungfish btw, I don’t know, mmamba sounds much better for me . We had an up-cycling day with all 10 clans , each working on a same recycling container in the morning (see on the pic, so you can imagine), then getting our gardening skills together we were working on a garden project with upcycled materials in the Masaka Recycling Initiative – they also focus on providing jobs for a disabled and street youth communities, through protecting their environment from plastic waste.

Photo: The Glass Passport Project

With my clan we visited the Villa Maria Hospital on our Legacy day, this hospital has been running since 1902. It does all of this running as a completely non-profit organisation, with a big heart to serve the community! This project will save hundreds of lives, with the money the runners raise the hospital plans to build a 24/7 Neonatal care unit. This will be constructed as a specialised building that will mean newborn children will no longer have to be referred out to other hospitals. We visited all the wards within the hospital, saw lots of love and hope, but also sadness, moms worrying about their ill babies, which is the worst sight I ever had to look at. I sincerely hope that we can help them with our work, because they deserve better. We also helped in renovating the Out Patient Ward while we were there. It was so great to see that all these people who thought they are only running a marathon, now working together as a team, they are friends who want to make others’ lives easier and leave something amazing behind when they leave Uganda.

Photo: The Glasspassport Project

Rise and shine early on Saturday morning, it’s RACE DAY! My place was at the Start/Finish line and as usual, making sure all going well with the runners – no one dies.  I loved being there, calming them when I saw their nervous faces before the start, but the best was to see them approaching the finish line. All those emotions they had, I remembered all, the excitement, fear, tiredness, happiness, pride, too many things to process too quickly. I was there listening to them, they had so many things to tell what happened in the last few hours , and I lived it all again,  every moment of this magic. Only those can understand it really, who was there and lived this through. Once you finished this race, this whole week, you don’t want to leave all this behind.  Amazing to hear that people loved their time there and thanking you to make this happen, it’s definitely worth all the work I put into this. I can only recommend to anyone to face the challenge and sign up for this adventure. No one will regret it, but it will change their thinking about the world forever.

And the local team, wow, they are the most amazing people, so hardworking, respectable and loving. I’ve never got so many hugs in my whole life than in these two weeks. I love all those girls with all my heart and I hope we meet again soon.

Photo: Adam Swallow

More pictures HERE!