Running for survivors of torture
Inspirational runner and Freedom from Torture supporter Rowena Harding writes about why she is running a series of marathons for us in 2011 and 2012...
My running challenge starts in Turkey, a country that conjures images of whirling dervishes, sunny beaches, soaring minarets and bustling bazaars. But it’s also a country with a dubious human rights record and where sadly torture is still a present danger for certain groups of people. It seems a fitting place to start my series of fundraising runs for the charity Freedom from Torture.
Freedom from Torture is the only registered charity in the UK which exclusively supports survivors of torture and organised violence. Operating for over 25 years, they aim to rehabilitate individuals back in to society where they may rebuild their own human dignity and worth. Their services adapt to meet the needs of torture survivors so they can find new ways of meeting their changing needs. Such services can be difficult to fund as torture can be an unappealing and challenging subject.
This first event in Turkey is a relatively easy one – 15km from the Asian to European side of Turkey. But it will still be a challenge, because as recently as May I suffered from a stress reaction on the soles of my feet that prevented me from walking – not ideal for a runner! The next event will be a gentle step up to a half marathon, only it will be run in Tromso, northern Norway at the Arctic Circle and the town will not have seen sunlight for six weeks! Finally, I’ll be running in the UK – a 50km self-navigating and self-supporting run around a section of the Capital Ring.
As I get up nearly every morning and train (four sessions of running, one of personal training one of pilates!) I’ll be keeping the clients of Freedom of Torture in mind. The softly spoken man reading poetry to express his pain, viewing drawings by children who have witnessed unspeakable violence, or recalling the proud smile from a client who has baked bread in a support group – these images will come with me as I run the streets, and hopefully will come to you as you consider a small donation to support the good work of the charity.
I run because "it's the challenge that you choose, rather than the challenge that chooses you." So my modest running debuts of 5km races were in memory of friends who had died of specific conditions and the charities that work to stop that happening. I've since tackled bigger running events, for bigger charities, small charities and grant giving organisations. I’ve been a supporter of Freedom from Torture for about five years now, and I am delighted to be running for this cause.
At many Freedom from Torture events, I've been able to meet their clients, people who have been victims of torture. I've never come away from one of these events with dry eyes. But I've always come away deeply impressed with the charity's work.
I've heard about the work they do, I've read the writings that come from expressive therapy, and creative writing classes. I've eaten bread made by a women's only group whose commonality is the dough they make and the pain they carry. I've smelt the tomatoes grown in their garden refuge, where stones mark tributes to fallen friends and spell out the word "Why".
I've heard from women just like me, and men who could be my father. I've met therapists and Chief Executives and stared in stunned admiration at their volunteer medical practitioners as they talk of their work. I've demanded loads from their communications and marketing folk and joined a local group.
I can't think of a charity that has made me feel more welcome as a supporter - imagine how they make someone feel who has been a victim of horrific torture.
So spurred on by the hard working local group at Hampstead and Highgate, I'll be tackling these three events and donating all funds to the charity. My events will not incur the charity any expenditure, other than fundraising fees set by the website, just giving.
I thought if everyone I know, and everyone who reads this post could buy me the equivalent of a pint of beer for doing these runs, we'd easily hit the target. 75p of every pound donated goes directly to providing services for torture survivors.
If you would like to sponsor Rowena please click here.