A nurse and novice runner has taken on a half marathon in the heat of the African sun in order to help children who live and work on a rubbish dump in Sierra Leone.
The adventurous nurse, who works at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, wanted to try and make a difference to some of West African country’s most impoverished children.
“What struck me as a nurse were the lack of basic facilities such as toilets and running water”
Jenny Walker, a mental health nurse and non-medical prescriber based in Great Yarmouth, visited Africa in late May alongside 12 other runners and a filmmaker from St Thomas’ Church in Norwich.
During the week-long trip, they had the opportunity to see some of the work carried out by the charity Street Child, before completing a 5km, 10km, half marathon or marathon to raise funds.
Ms Walker, who only began running last February, opted for the half marathon distance and has so far raised more than £2,500 for her efforts.
The group began their trip by visiting a rubbish dump in Kissy, which is a workplace and home to many families.
They also met people who have set up their own businesses with Street Child’s support, as well as travelling to a school run by the charity.
“Your instincts are telling you that you don’t want to be there because of the smell”
They finished by completing their run in over 33 degree heat, cheered on by crowds of locals and joined by children who wanted to run alongside them.
“The half marathon was a fantastic experience,” she said. “People lined the streets and were cheering, and children were keen to hold our hands and run with us, as it is one of the highlights of their year.
“The whole experience has changed me and was incredibly inspiring,” added Ms Walker, a 35-year-old mother of three. “I feel that I got far more out of it than I could ever offer the people of Sierra Leone by trying to raise money.
“Since the civil war and ebola crisis, the country has been through such a difficult time; they have such high levels of deprivation, poor sanitation and accommodation,” she noted.
“Despite this, it was a very uplifting experience,” she said. “Sierra Leone is a beautiful country and it was a real pleasure to meet such wonderfully warm and resilient people.
However, despite running a half marathon in the scorching heat, she described the visit to the rubbish dump as the “most difficult thing” the group did during its trip.
“Your instincts are telling you that you don’t want to be there because of the smell, but, at the same time, these are people’s homes, and there were a lot of children working there,” said Ms Walker.
Norfolk nurse runs to raise funds for African street children
“Some wanted to show us where they lived, and we were amazed that they had made such beautiful homes, which they were so proud of, from things they had found on the dump,” she said.
She highlighted that street child also supports people in setting up their own businesses so they can become self-sufficient and pay for their children to go to school.
“We were lucky enough to visit some of those projects, and were really impressed with this empowering work,” she said.
“Visiting the school was a real eye-opener,” she said. “Although the classroom was packed with children, they had no resources and the classrooms were bare, the children were however so grateful to attend school.
“What struck me as a nurse were the lack of basic facilities such as toilets and running water, and the village was completely cut off and had no real access to medical care,” she said.
She added: “The visit to Sierra Leone showed me the huge difference that such a small amount of money can make. I would love to go back one day and would even considering doing the half marathon again.”
Ms Walker works for the trust’s Eastern Recovery Team, which provides assessment, treatment and review for patients within the community who are experiencing mental health difficulties.
The team receives referrals from GPs, acute hospitals and other health professionals, and offers a range of services from support to medication and physical health review, psychological input, graded exposure work, care and crisis planning.
So far, the 13-strong team from St Thomas’ Church have raised a total of £17,300. They have also made a video about their trip.
Anyone who would like to sponsor Ms Walker should visit her charity web page.