The runners make the Uganda Marathon what it is. The friendships, the community, the fundraising and the determination to finish is why the UGM is truly a Race Like No Other. Here we tell the stories of the runners who took part in 2016 event, as they share their insights and experiences of the week-long adventure.
Having previously visited Uganda as a volunteer in 2014, Thomas decided to return with the UGM having found the charity’s non-profit model and ethos appealing. He volunteered at three of our projects during the week including ‘Youth with a Vision’ and the ‘Suubi Centre’. Then on the final day, he took on our 10K Race through rural Africa…
1. What made you sign up for the Uganda Marathon 2016?
Since volunteering in Uganda in 2014, I have been working with some community projects to help them access resources and support necessary for their development. I am a big believer in the positive power of sport as a universal language and as a starting point for shared experiences and relationships.
The non-profit model and ethos of the Ugandan Marathon as a catalyst for sustainable community development is a structure I firmly believe is best suited to helping with the long-term development of communities in Africa. This approach can make direct life-changing impacts by bringing people from different parts of the world together, under a common interest and shared goal for the empowerment of the local community.
2. Was it what you expected?
It is difficult to explain to those who haven’t experienced life in African communities how welcoming, life-affirming and generous the people you meet are. Similarly, the uniqueness of the Uganda Marathon and the authenticity of the experiences every day during the week-long event are hard to describe. I was blown away by the scale of the undertaking in having 150 people visit a very contrasting part of the world from where we come from, and how the UGM team strived to make it the very best week possible for each and every visitor.
The people of Masaka have embraced the marathon and it really is evident when speaking to local people just how positive the influence of the marathon has been and the huge potential it has to raise people out of poverty by sustainably developing the associated projects.
The time spent camping overlooking the valleys surrounding the town of Masaka really brought home each morning just how lucky we were to be part of an incredible movement and community. The attention to detail and work put in by the UGM team is something I found really inspiring. Each person not only gave up their time but put in a huge effort at personal expense to run an event, which could never be as special as it is, if it was done for commercial gain.
3. Could you tell us about the volunteering aspect of the week? What projects did you visit and what was it like to volunteer at each of them? Did you have an experience that stood out in particular?
I really enjoyed working with the young people in Youth with a Vision. The kids involved are a credit to the organisation. The young people I was working with are very clear on what opportunities they can develop with micro-finance support and how they can implement their business plans. I think they taught me more than I taught them! It reinforced for me how empowering people with the education and the direct support we are fortunate enough to have easy access to in our part of the world, can make immediate differences in their quality of life.
Another experience which stood out for me was our visit to Suubi to meet with David Ssemwogerere. David is an incredible man who through vision, commitment, dedication, and love has raised his community out of poverty. What he has achieved through embodying a vision for development and with no direct “official charity” support is incredible. I was blown away by his expertise and humbleness. Personally, he massively inspired me to continue to work with community projects in Africa as, with the right approach and right people, change and growth are possible for people and communities that may currently be struggling with poverty. The project that the Uganda Marathon is supporting will help these local people access a sustainable income, and the profits will be circulated in a community co-operative to help other families in the future.
I am looking forward to learning more from David in the future and sharing his expertise with others.
4. You came to the Uganda Marathon having run in previous events. What was the experience of Race Day like, and how did it compare to other events you’ve done?
Although I was unable to run the full marathon, I was delighted to be able to take part in the 10k race. What I loved about the race is that the course is an embodiment of both the beauty and harshness of Africa. The race works because it doesn’t attempt to replicate a typical running event or marathon that the international visitors would be used to at home. ‘This is Africa’ comes through in getting the dance moves on for a warm-up, then you’re running through villages, up and down dirt hills (with uniquely Ugandan red soil), sharing smiles and chats with local runners, and finally shimmying through the hustle and bustle of Masaka town.
The fact the race is part of a week-long event means the focus is not on times or performance or competition. Just like the time spent in the projects earlier in the week, the race day itself is a celebration of a community with the emphasis being on the enjoyment of taking part and being fortunate enough to be able to run around a special part of the world, where you are welcomed whole-heartedly.
It’s a bit madcap, the scenery is breathtaking, the hills are a killer and it is absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait to run the full marathon next year!
5. Finally, what was your best overall memory of the Uganda Marathon, and how would you sum it up for someone who hasn’t been?
The memories I have that stand out in particular are the fantastic welcome from the kids of Bugabira school, visiting the incredible Suubi project (and learning just what is possible for community development with the right people, vision and commitment), the delicious food, morning sunrises, being the target of a week-long ambush by the Masaka mosquito population, and enjoying getting to know some amazing people from the group who took part.
For someone who might be thinking of taking part next year, I would tell them that they are guaranteed to not only enjoy an awesome week-long event and experience a special part of the world that they will never forget, but also their involvement and visit will directly impact and help the community of Masaka in the future. Do it!