Free to Run focuses specifically on supporting women and girls from conflict areas. Why? We believe they are in greatest need and they hold the most potential for positive change.
We have two models of programs. Our Country Programs focus on individuals and communities in conflict areas, whereas our Refugee Programs provide support to those who have been forced to flee their homes.
Everyone deserves the chance to run, play and experience the outdoors. At Free to Run, we are working tirelessly to make that happen.
Afghanistan (2014 - present) : Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman. Afghanistan frequently ranks amongst the lowest of countries in terms of educational opportunities, life expectancy, health, and access to justice. Despite significant advances that have been made since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, human rights organizations have reported a regression in women’s rights over the last few years. Its future stability is far from clear.
Especially now, it is critical that we support women and girls in Afghanistan and provide them with opportunities for empowerment and education. Free to Run launched its programs in Afghanistan in September 2014, thanks to the financial support from RacingThePlanet, and friends in the running community. The first Free to Run office was established in Central Highlands Region in January 2015. We are now operating in three provinces of Afghanistan.
We provide regular sports activities for students at the high school and university level, including hiking, running and skiing. We also provide international sports opportunities, including comprehensive team training, for those who possess particular leadership potential.
South Sudan (2014): South Sudan, the world’s newest country, became embroiled in conflict just 2.5 years after it gained independence from Sudan. The escalation of violence across the country caused the displacement of 1.6 million people, including one million who are internally displaced. In this type of emergency situation, women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. Community networks and support structures often disintegrate, leaving individuals and families less able to deal with the emotional trauma of conflict and displacement.
In November 2014, Free to Run ran a successful pilot project in South Sudan, through a local implementing partner called, Sports for Hope. This organization has been active in the country since 2007. The project focused on volleyball skills training for women living in a site for internally displaced persons. Our goal was to facilitate access to group sports activities for women and girls. Social cohesion can provide critical support to those who need it most, strengthening their coping mechanisms and reducing the risk of further vulnerability.
Hong Kong (2015 - present): Today millions of people are leaving their home countries out of fear of persecution, torture, and conflict. Several thousand are now living as refugees in Hong Kong. Most are not entitled to work, leaving them in deplorable conditions. This only exacerbates their trauma. Female refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly vulnerable and often subject to exploitation and abuse.
Our hiking program with female refugees began in June 2015, in collaboration with the Justice Centre Hong Kong, providing hiking activities every week for a group of 15-20 women. In August 2015, we began a mixed gender track training group. Free to Run is now serving 45 refugees, providing them with essential access to sports. Through sports, they are overcoming the social isolation of living as refugees in Hong Kong, dealing with past traumas, and rebuilding their self-confidence. Refugees in Hong Kong are not allowed to work or even volunteer, so the fitness activities are some of the only opportunities they have to re-develop their mental and physical strength.
Highlights from 2014-2016
- Over 50 female students from our sports clubs in Afghanistan trained for and participated in a 10km race outdoors in the Central Highlands region.
- Zainab, one of our Free to Run Ambassadors, became the first Afghan woman to run a full marathon in her country.
- Two ultra marathon teams from Afghanistan, including the first mixed gender sports team from the country, successfully completed two 250km self-supported footraces in the Gobi Desert and Sri Lanka.
- 20 female students have gained access to weekly ski lessons and 5 women competed in the 2016 Bamyan ski competition.
- Nelofar, one of our Free to Run Ambassadors and ultra athletes, started a running club of 20 women in the North of Afghanistan and successfully organized a half marathon this week for international women’s day.
- Female refugees in Hong Kong who were previously reluctant to leave their homes are now participating in outdoor activities on a regular basis
- Our refugee running team in Hong Kong received an award from the local running community for their achievements