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Running for Slí Eile

padraig_01.jpgIn a monumental effort to raise funds for Slí Eile, director Padraig Swan ran a grueling 56 kilometres in the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa in April. It took him a mere 5 hours, 40 minutes. And he doesn’t plan to stop there. He will run a further three marathons this year, hoping to add substantially to the more than €10,000 he has raised to date. Slí Eile’s Audrey Hogan was at the Cape Town event too, egging Padraig along. After the marathon they stayed another two weeks to visit the projects in South Africa and Zambia where Slí Eile volunteers will work this summer. Read below for Padraig’s account of his African experience and for Audrey’s reflections on what the trip meant to her.

SWAN SAILS THE TWO OCEANS

by Padraig Swan

On April 11th last I completed the first leg of my marathon challenge to raise funds for Sli Eile. The first event was the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in Cape Town covering a gruelling distance of 56 kilometres (35 miles) along some fantastic scenery but over some serious hills. The toughest climb was after the “normal” marathon mark of 26 miles, the road meandered steadily up to a height of 600ft above sea level. This tested every piece of my mental strength, let alone the physical strength in my legs to make it up that hill.

But sure enough I did make it and managed to successfully cross the finish line in a reasonable time of 5 hours and 40 minutes. This was all the more satisfying given that the majority of the race was run in 26 degrees heat and I had no injuries, exhaustion or blisters at the finish. The event was truly spectacular and very well organised. There were 15,000 runners in all. The support along the way was brilliant and even more brilliant was that my colleague from Sli Eile, Audrey Hogan, and her friends were there at the finish line to cheer me on and capture the moment on video. You can view this on Sli Eile’s facebook page.

The event was a huge fundraising success too and I sincerely wish to thank all those who have supported me in this effort. To date we have raised over €10,000 for the work of Sli Eile. My next event is the Cork City Marathon on June 1st and the fundraising efforts continue with the Longford marathon on the August bank holiday and finishing with the Dublin marathon on the October bank holiday. So I appeal to you to log onto http://www.mycharity.ie/event/padraig_swan_event/ to make a donation if you haven’t already.

After the Two Oceans marathon in Cape Town, we spent a further 2 weeks visiting Sli Eile projects in South Africa and Zambia, preparing and planning for over 100 volunteers that will travel to these areas in the summer. They will work at building a school and toilet block in a very rural area of South Africa and work with an orphanage, school, street kids projects, a hospice for the dying and agricultural projects in Lusaka, Zambia.

We also visited a project in the Western Province of Zambia where a group of trainee solicitors from the Arthur Cox firm will go in July. They will camp in the bush on the edge of the Kalahari desert and continue the renovation work in a rural village medical clinic that a group of their colleagues began last year. The work carried out by all Sli Eile volunteers in Africa and elsewhere (Colombia and Jamaica) has a lasting effect on the local communites that we visit as well as having the profound effect on the volunteers themselves.

We are proud to be able to facilitate these cultural exchanges and these are just a small example of the work that we need your support for. So finally, I remind you to please donate any amount you can to support my own individual effort in running 4 marathons this year to sustain our work.

REFLECTIONS ON AFRICA – APRIL 2009

by Audrey Hogan

“Falling in love with Africa was easy; leaving it behind has proven more difficult…”

When people talked to me of Africa they mentioned the African skies, the sounds of the night and the smell of burning grasses. But for me, my memories will always be of the African people.

As I stepped onto African soil it was love at first sight. People were friendly with their eyes, and my cheeks lifted with every giving smile and hand shake. A sense of happiness filled the atmosphere around me, and I never noticed my white skin.

Being brought up in Dublin in the 70’s I couldn’t help but notice the comparison between the Ireland of that era and the Africa of today.

The week for these Africans is centred around Sunday Mass – a celebration that takes up to 3 hours. Back in mid 70’s Ireland, I remember meeting up with aunts, uncles and cousins for the weekly get-together outside the church gates after Mass each Sunday.

Africa – the electricity would come and go sometimes lasting for hours, with torches and candles on stand-by. I remember my Dad with the oil lamp always on hand, back in my childhood days.

Everyone greets each other as they go along their daily life in Africa. That used to be the case in Dublin too, but now we are all too busy and caught up in ourselves to notice who passes us by. Gone is the Dublin where you nod and smile at the people you encounter each day.

Africa – with unwanted babies in a place known to many as ‘The saddest place you’ll ever visit’. My day there was probably my happiest out of all 23 days. Beautiful babies – all 60 of them! – in Mother Teresa’s Hospice. To give so little – just a hug and a little play – and yet to receive so much back in return, as the children hold on to you like lion cubs, never wanting you to let go of them. All babies cry in the same language, but I will hold my tears back until I reach home.

Travelling along the dusty, bumpy roads, it was evident that Jesus was well known to these people around me. Every second door was a religious centre or church or Christian place for people to gather. It’s hard to believe that the people we met were so happy in themselves, even though they had nothing. Or are we the ones with nothing? Who are really “the poor and the rich” of this world?

So much happiness and so many smiles amid the hunger and hardship. The life of women there weighed me down but don’t annoy me by saying “they don’t know any better”. That’s not good enough.

Real hunger has its dignity, so what is it to beg? We did not encounter begging of any form throughout the journey. The poverty of the people – is this another man’s greed? Is it our greed?

Children and young women are raped every day. This is a reality. Their stories were described to us as perfectly normal events. This is where I have to question “Finding God in all things”. Yes, we’ve been very lucky, and maybe He was too busy looking after us. But it’s now question-time for me.

Jesus is who the African people cling to for hope, so without hope where is Jesus?

I really enjoyed the trip and I have to say that I really miss all the smiling faces and handshakes. I brought home a lot of contentment, but I left a piece of my heart behind me…