Around August of last year a Peace Corps friend of mine sat me down at a Maun coffee shop/bar to tell me about her crazy idea of putting together a huge marathon for people up in the northern part of the country. The event would take place in her village, Shakawe, and the goal would be two fold: to increase health and fitness awareness, and in doing so raise money for an ambulance for the Shakawe clinic. Botswana already has its own marathon, but it takes place way down south in Gaborone. Much of the country, especially outside of Gabs, doesn’t seem to view exercise as a priority. Perhaps it’s merely a cultural omission, or maybe it’s because many Batswana use their holiday time to travel to their cattlepost to plow all day long in the heat. I don’t think I’d exercise much if that’s how I spent my vacation.
Either way, Shakawe desperately needed an ambulance, and to her this was a fine way of getting one. She teamed up with a few philanthropic businesses, pulled together some Peace Corps Volunteers, and started putting the event together from absolutely nothing.
I peripherally helped her plan it out at first, and then got the idea that perhaps SAREP (USAID) could fund part of it with our HIV/AIDS account. She was thinking the same thing and we both began discussing it, and sure enough SAREP ended up funding about half of the entire event including promotional posters, flyers, reusable banners, portable toilets, tables, chairs, and tents for the Health Expo.
The event took place over Easter weekend. Our Country Director and his wife ran the half marathon along with many other volunteers and Batswana. People from all over the country attended. The Health Expo featured HIV and TB testing, Malaria information, arts and crafts, traditional dancers, choirs, speakers, and even a DJ.
SAREP traveled up to Shakawe and held a stall at the Health Expo; it was a perfect opportunity to give and take feedback with the community. I asked people to fill out a survey (provided in both written English and Setswana) in which people could let us know what types of HIV/AIDS education are needed in their respective villages. They, in turn, received information on all of SAREP’s components as well as factual information on safe-male circumcision.
Logistics teams from both sides, Peace Corps Volunteers and SAREP staff, went nuts trying to make it work, but in the end it did. Over 200 people from all over the region ran in the marathon or 5K, almost 1000 people attended the whole event, and they raised enough money to secure the purchase of the ambulance. My favorite part about the whole event was seeing Batswana with their numbers tacked to their shirts as they competed in a run for the first time. I hope the ambulance comes through, but if for any reason it doesn’t I hope the event at least inspired people to see the excitement and fulfillment of exercising for fun.