I have had some people ask me why or how running will improve the lives of the children of Northern Uganda.
I think these are fair questions, and in light of my project and its upcoming launch date (I leave in 4.5 weeks), I am going to share the research findings I have come upon to explain why this project is legitimate; and thus more than a runner just wanting to run with African kids (because someone truly asked me if that is all this trip is about).
Here’s a quick recap:
For six weeks I will lead a group of children in a distance running project. This specific group of children have (against incredible odds) survived unimaginable things having been abducted, brainwashed and then forced to be child-soldiers (the boys) and sex-slaves (the girls) for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) (Carlson, 2008). The LRA is a rebel army lead by the infamous Joseph Kony.
Here’s a (very) basic literature review to explain why I believe distance running will improve the lives of children through Children of Peace, Uganda:
Research indicates that sports, such as futbol and volleyball, can play a part in the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of child-soldiers and post-war communities, especially when placed within a larger program that is providing counseling and education (Dyck, 2011; Veale & Stavrou, 2007). The organization I am partnering with, Children of Peace, Uganda, has been counseling these and other children in the same circumstances since 2007 (Ekayu, 2013). Children of Peace, Uganda is also working to find education sponsors for the children in their community. Sports however, have never been integrated in a structured program. My project will be the first of its kind for these children.
Art therapy and dance therapy have been researched extensively in the US and UK and show therapeutic benefits for children having experienced separation from parents, violence, trauma and sexual abuse (Kozlowska & Hanney 2001; Mills & Daniluk, 2002; Waller, 2006; Willemsen & Anscombe; 2001). Children of Peace, Uganda has been doing art therapy with the children they serve since the organization’s founding (Ekayu, 2012; Single, 2010). Dance and other movement-based programs and therapies have not been brought to the children in Lira and my hope is that the simple sport of distance running will open the door to this approach. I also hope to be a catalyst for bringing more movement-based programs and therapies to this special group of children (dancers, yoga instructors, athletic coaches welcomed!)
Distance running in a western context has been researched by scholars within multiple fields, such as developmental psychology, clinical psychology, health science, education and women’s studies. Within each field distance running has been shown to lessen symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD, as well as give the runner a sense of self-worth, self-efficacy, pride, confidence, closeness within their running group and many more positive outcomes (Leedy, 2009; Shipway & Holloway, 2010). If distance running can have these positive effects in a western context, why not also to children in Lira, Uganda? (Keeping in mind the cultural sensitivities and nuances, of course.)
The children I am working with deal with the aforementioned conditions and their consequences, such as depression and PTSD (McDonnell & Akallo. 2007; Veale & Stavrou, 2007). They are also orphans, many have younger siblings to look after, and some are living with HIV/AIDS (Ekayu, 2013; Feldmeth, 2013). They have been abused, neglected and stigmatized for their pasts. They deserve someone (and many someones) to love on them. They are valuable in my eyes and I want to bring to them a special program to help them, nurture them, and grow them.
I believe distance running will be life-giving. It will bring them joy, create bonds between the children who run together and provide a medium for working through the emotions and experiences they carry.
This project is a beginning point. I hope that it is the first of many to come. I will revise this post ASAP and include citations for the above information/review. But, right now I really need to get out the door for a run right now, the mercury is rising.
I hope this post better explains why my project is more than a runner simply wanting to run with kids in Africa. Instead, I am a passionate runner, with a love for Africa and a passion and education for serving children- in this case Ugandan children. I am basing my project off of a large body of scientific scholarship, as well as over 10 years of running experience (training, competing and coaching).
I want my readers to know I have done the background work. I am launching this project responsibly. I gladly invite the inquiry of everyone involved, so please reach out to me if you want to learn more. If you want to read the research articles yourself I am happy to email them to you. And soon I will have the citations posted too, should you want to look things up yourself. Email me at email@example.com
Blessings friends 🙂
(Like I promised, added 07.04.2013)
Carlson, Khristopher, LL.M., and Dyan Mazurana, Ph.D. 2008. Forced Marriage within the Lord’s Resistance Army, Uganda. 70.
Dyck, Christopher B. 2011. “Football and Post-War Reintegration: exploring the role of sports in DDR precesses in Sierra Leone.” Third World Quarterly no. 32 (3):395-415.
Ekayu, Jane. 2013. Children of Peace Uganda, 23 April 2013.
Feldmeth, Devon. 2013. Preparations for Lira.
Kozlowska, Kasia and Lesley Hanney. 2001. “An Art Therapy Group for Children Traumatized by Parental Violence and Seperation.” Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry no. 6 (1):49-78.
Leedy, Gail. 2009. “”I Can’t Cry and Run at the Same Time”: Women’s Use of Distance Running.” Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work no. 24 (1):80-93.
McDonnell, Faith J.H., and Grace Akallo. 2007. Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen.
Mills, Letty J. and Judith C. Daniluk. 2002. “Her Body Speaks: The Experience of Dance Therapy for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.” Journal of Counceling and Development no. 80:77-85.
Single, Bryan. 2010. Children of War.
Shipway, Richard and Immy Holloway. 2010. “Running free: Embracing a healthy lifestyle through distance running.” Perspectives in Public Health no. 130 (6):270-275.
Veale, Angela and Aki Stavrou. 2007. “Former Lord’s Resistance Army Child Soldier Abductees: Explorations of Identity in Reintegration and Reconciliation.” Peace and Conflict: Joural of Peace Psychology no. 13 (3):273-292.
Waller, Diane. 2006. “Art Therapy for Children: How it Leads to Change.” Clinical Chld Psychology and Psychiatry:271-282.
Willemsen, Hessel and Elizabeth Anscombe. 2001. “Art and Play Group Therapy for Pre-School children Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS.” Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry no. 6 (3):339-350.
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Awpoyo & ameri matek!