To everyone who reads this blog of mine, I have a favor to ask of you. Consider it a Christmas gift, if you want, or just the chance to do some good. Help out my friend Lesley who is participating in the Sahara Marathon: http://www.justgiving.com/Lesley-Forsythe.
Let me give you some background.
On the far western edges of the Sahara, lives a people without a country. More accurately, lives a people with a country that has for years been ‘claimed’ by someone else. Western Sahara is essentially the last colony is Africa, invaded by the Moroccan government in 1975. Not that the country was in the Sahrawis’ (the people of Western Sahara) control then either. No, Morocco took the country over from Spain, who had their claws in it since the turn of the 20th century. Which means the people of Western Sahara, the tribes that have used the land for centuries, haven’t been in control of their own home for more than a century. Not that the Sahrawis have been silent. No, they put up resistance. They still do. Some still live in Western Sahara, along the coast, where thousands of Moroccans too have settled.
For the past three decades, most Sahrawis live out their lives in refugee camps outside Tindouf, in the vast Sahara deserts of Algeria.
Only miles from their country.
The refugee camps of Tindouf are not the abysmal horror stories you hear about for those fleeing from Somali, Sudan, Syria. They have food, and water, and shelter. These refugee camps are well established.
But they are still refugee camps. For many it is the only home they have even known. They do not even know what the towns of their mothers, fathers, grandparents are like because they have never seen them. They can’t, either.
I choose to live outside of my home country. I choose to make a life in a land different. They do not have the choice. To return home is not to return to their land, but to a land illegally owned by others. The UN has said multiple times that Morocco (and Mauritania) have no legal rights to the Western Sahara. That Spain, which essentially just abandoned the Western Sahara (and thus still has theoretical administrative control of the area), was supposed to have given a referendum on Western Sahara’s independence decades ago. That Morocco was supposed to do the same. That the Sahrawi people and those who live in the Western Sahara were and are supposed to be given the option to become autonomous, to become integrated or to become independent.
That referendum has never been held. Despite repeated promises. And that isn’t to say that the Sahrawis are without blemish. No, there has been armed conflict and atrocities committed on both sides. But mostly? Mostly this is a case of people who should have the opportunity to choose their destiny. And most just want to return home.
Most people aren’t aware of this issue. Most people in Morocco are barely aware of it. And those that are don’t talk about it, because talking about independence for the Sahrawi people is considered being a traitor against the Moroccan crown. Most people who will read this post probably know little about it. I am talking about people with a country that doesn’t formally exist.
The Sahara Marathon is an organization dedicated to raising awareness on the Sahrawi plight through sport. Now in its 13th year, the Sahara Marathon is exactly as it sounds: a marathon run through the Sahara. Through the desert. Through sand dunes and rocks and the sun and the sky. The additional twist is that all participants live with the refugees during the race. Part of the costs of entry for the race go directly to the refugees. It is one of my bucket list items to one day participate in the marathon (or at least the 10k). Right now, that isn’t a possibility for me. But I told my friend Lesley about it, and she is doing it. This year. Here’s a message from her to you:
My name is Lesley and I’m a teacher in Cairo. I’m not a professional runner, in fact far from it – I’m 40 this week and haven’t run for about 25 years. However, putting on a pair of running shoes and taking part in a marathon across the desert is still easier than what they have to do everyday to survive. And when it’s all over I can still return to my nice apartment in Cairo.
I will do everything I can to help those people and every dollar that is donated just makes me heart leap for joy and think yes, I can run a marathon. in the desert. without a road. after 25 years and a lot of cigarettes (yep, I’ve been a heavy smoker most of my adult life).
Many people are amazed by what I am planning to do. I am amazed by what hardships most people face on a daily basis. I might struggle …. but it will be temporary. These people struggle everyday so let’s try and help them to be more self-sufficient by supporting the Sahara Marathon and http://www.sandblast-arts.org/.
This week, America suffered a terrible tragedy in Connecticut. Let’s counteract those bad actions by doing good. I’d like to keep my faith in humanity and am convinced that most people are good. I hope you agree.
Thanks to Catherine for bringing this marathon to my attention and thanks a million in advance for your support, you’re wonderful.
By donating to http://www.justgiving.com/Lesley-Forsythe, you’ll be giving to the Sandblast Arts foundation, which is dedicated to providing means of self-reliance for the Sahrawi people through the arts. They fund workshops on music, dance, theater, jewelry making and more.
By donating to them, you are saying 30 years in a refugee camp is unjustifiable. You are saying people deserve the right to choose their future.
By donating to Lesley, you are really donating to me. Because if I had the means, I would be doing the exact same thing right now. Lesley is raising all the costs for the actual marathon on her own – donating to Sandblast is just extra to help the community more. She has already been given a large stack of children’s books (for English language learners) to give to the refugee children. She is doing what she can for the community, and I hope you donate to her cause. To their cause. To my cause.
Tis the season for goodwill towards men. Do some good.