Sitting on the floor where Safa’s family live in Kawergosk Refugee Camp in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, I was struck by her disarming smile as she described life as she knew it. She told of surviving on the limited amount food available, worrying about the health and safety of those back home in Syria and her aunt, a teacher, who hadn’t been paid for months.
Over 1 million children and their families have fled conflict and the fear of Daesh/Islamic State. In Iraq alone, there are 250,000 Syrian refugees and even more internally displaced Iraqis – about 3.4 million. These children need both schools and basic protection services. Despite the best efforts of UNICEF and others, there are not enough classrooms in the camps, too few teachers and almost no safe spaces for children to play.
Throughout Safa’s report, the only time tears came to her eyes was when she said that her grades had gone down since moving to the camp. Displaying at once both human resilience and personal despair, I was moved by her. She has strength. She deserves more.
Halfway across the world, I know of a different young woman who exudes that same strength. A few years older, she has overcome the challenge of her circumstances to create a life and a future for herself. With the support she has received from Scottish charity, Cash for Kids, Kourtney McMurray will this year be taking up a place at Glasgow University, studying for a degree in Community Development.
Cash for Kids exists to support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children with opportunities that are not being provided or cannot be provided by their own families. At first as a beneficiary, then later as a representative for Cash for Kids, Kourtney is an example of the kind of success story Cash for Kids strives to create.
Their latest initiative is a new programme to support vulnerable children from the West of Scotland at risk during school summer holidays with life-changing experiences; exactly the type of programme Kourtney was able to take advantage of as she was growing up.
Funds from Cash for Kids supports individual teenagers to have that opportunity. Every £450 raised is one more place, creating one more life with far more opportunities.
For the past 5 years I have taken part in Live Below The Line; a challenge to live on less than £1 a day for 5 days in May/June. I was lucky enough to raise a lot of money throughout this time for people in Burundi, Malawi, Swaziland, and elsewhere. However, in 2016 I will take on a new challenge. And I’ll split the money I raise between these two great causes.
I am joining a charity run for the first time in three decades. United Relay is a coast-to-coast relay run that starts in western USA and finishes in New York City. I will be running the final 5K which finishes in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on Saturday 4 June. Click on the link to see a clip of the final stretch of my training in New York: https://youtu.be/I7-IvnODuZY.
Running through central London, in the rain, during rush hour, you would think I would need to keep reminding myself why I am doing this. I don’t. I think of Safa, and of millions of others like her, and I keep going. Dodging commuters and tourists, it is easy to focus on my goal: to help build a world where vulnerable young people are equipped with the skills to build a life for themselves, and a place they can call home.
Inspired by the lives of Safa, Kourtney and others like them, I have been training for 2 months in preparation. It has been hard, a bit lonely, mostly cloudy and often very wet. But I run and run and run. And I think. I think about the Kourtneys and the Safas and all those who may miss out on the things that make a life worth living.
Every one of us can help change that. My sponsors and supporters will be doing their bit. If you wish to donate, please copy and paste the following link: https://unitedrelay.org/u/JackMcConnell