The Spirit of Kiwoko – Running the Ugandan Bush Marathon

12 months ago, Andrew O’Brien visited Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda as part of the Aspen Ambassador programme. The work of the hospital and the strength of the community had a profound impact on him. On returning to London, Andrew committed to undertake a huge feat – to run 12 marathons in 12 months to fundraise for The ISIS Foundation projects at Kiwoko Hospital. To date, he has completed three of the 12 marathons, which have taken him as far and wide as The Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø, Norway to a race through the Swiss Alps. Most recently, he returned to Kiwoko Hospital to run the Ugandan Bush Marathon. We are so impressed by his dedication to The ISIS Foundation and Kiwoko Hospital and feel so lucky to have such passionate, dedicated supporters. If you wish to support Andrew in fundraising for ISIS, please consider donating to his Just Giving page, here.

By Andrew O’Brien – Aspen London Office – 12in12 for ISIS

Volunteer running in raceThe Ugandan Bush Marathon – one of the most demanding and humbling experiences of my life. Over 42km along dirt tracks littered with rocks and pot holes in an isolated rural setting around the outskirts of the town of Kiwoko. I set off at daybreak, guided by a rider on a boda-boda so I don’t get completely lost. It gets very hot very quickly and with little or no shade to offer respite from the blazing sun, the humidity is punishing.

Although Uganda is a beautiful and fertile country with friendly and outgoing people, life is very tough away from the facilities of the city and with families living hand to mouth, hunger is a lifestyle here. But despite being slaves to their circumstances, these rural communities are resilient and I can’t help being inspired by their resolve.

The first half of my marathon is hard going and it doesn’t get any easier. With another 20km still to go, I become conscious that I’m almost out of water and am beginning to feel nauseated and dehydrated. But being back at Kiwoko gives me strength and reminds me why I took on the 12-in-12 challenge. Everyone I’ve met here has hopes and dreams of a future and they never give up.

Focused on just putting one foot in front of the other, I run past mud-walled, grass-thatched buildings. Families tending to their crops pause to wave and shout encouragement. And then, out of nowhere, I hear the roar of a truck and familiar faces emerge from a cloud of dust. With great relief, my water bottle is quickly replenished and with some affectionate pats on the back, I head back into the bush and the impossible starts to seem possible.

Though it is difficult to share effectively what you have not personally experienced I know my pain and suffering is only temporary and nothing compared with the daily struggles faced by those living here in abject poverty. With this thought in mind, I keep on running and soon reach the final hill leading up to the hospital gates. And then I’m back in the hospital compound, receiving a tumultuous reception from the waiting crowds.

This has been my toughest marathon so far but it’s been fantastic to come back to Kiwoko hospital – a community where people live and work together and a place where the richness and intensity of life and relationships seems starker, yet so peaceful. It has been a privilege to feel part of it and I know my friends at Kiwoko will forever hold a special place in my heart.

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