In Zanzibar things happen in a fairly random way and somehow rabbits appear out of hats at the last minute. That was certainly true of the first Zanzibar Half Marathon! To begin with, we weren’t sure of the start time... originally we’d heard 9am and then it changed to 6am. It was actually 7am (well 7.05am). We didn’t get the confirmation email of our group’s participation. Half of our registrations had gone missing...but it was a great success none the less!
The event was set up to highlight women´s empowerment and gender equality. Women and girls are at the heart of Zanzibar’s agenda for sustainable development and the idea was that the race will help to challenge stereotypes by showing women and girls as agents of change. Women here usually cover up so it’s hard to describe the impact of local women running the streets in Lycra.
We thought it would be a great opportunity for the older students in Safari English Club to be part of the race. There are a lot of girls in the advanced class and we always feel sorry that their interest in exercise is overshadowed by the boys’ passion for football. Our after school club takes place in a remote village – the students hadn’t heard about the race until we mentioned it and without special transportation they wouldn’t have been able to arrive in time for the early start.
We arrived at the start point early to sort out our registrations. In the half darkness the First Aid team was being briefed and the music system was being set up. 6am and it was already getting hot...just as well the start was 7am and not 9am! Rickety local buses started to roll in, packed with groups from around the island and it became clear that women were in the majority! Race organisers say that 54% of the runners were women. Everyone mixed up happily – some elite runners from the mainland, lots of first time runners, families, work colleagues in branded T shirts, local running clubs and lots of women in traditional dress.
The bus arrived from Unguja Ukuu, crammed with representatives of Safari English Club. They’d left at 4.30am and the bus hadn’t broken down, what’s not to like about that! Everyone got a T shirt. Some people got a race number, some didn’t but no-one cared.
We usually see the young people wearing their black and white school uniforms, so it’s always a pleasure to see them in colourful weekend outfits. The girls are usually very demure, wearing long skirts and long-sleeved blouses. We were surprised to see them taking off a few layers and running in leggings. We’re also used to everyone ambling around fairly slowly so it came as quite a revelation to see some of them are quite speedy runners who covered the 5k in good time. But the surprise of the day was one of the mature students, Makame who completed the half marathon. Everyone wanted to be photographed with him.
The students loved taking part and being part of the first major race on the island to encourage women. Back at school on Monday we showed the photos of the day to all the students in Safari English Club and the older students talked about the importance of the race to women.
We’re delighted to report on the success of Haroun, one of the older members of Safari English Club. He was one of the founder members and has been enthusiastically attending the club over the last two years. He left school in November and was offered a job at One Ocean, the top diving centre on the island. He was excited about becoming a dive master, using his English, his passion for the ocean and great social skills to work with tourists. But then last week he got amazing results in his exams – he has sufficient credits to attend university and get a loan. So now Haroun is researching university options – he says that without Safari English Club he wouldn’t be in such a great position to have choices of what to do with his life.
Haroun is determined to help others learn English. On his day off he joins us teaching English and it’s great to have him in the classroom. He inspires the younger students to work hard and to see how this can help them make the most of their talents. He’s just turned 18 and wanted to share a birthday cake with the other students. After plenty of singing we introduced the concept of “Birthday bumps”.