By Graham Clifford, Founder, The Sanctuary Runners
Pounding the pavement, a friend of mine from northern Pakistan tells me of his two young daughters back home. The older girl is sensible and solid, but the young one is a rascal. As we dig deep for the final push home, I tell him my two girls have similar traits and we share stories of our daughter’s antics. Doting dads eating up the ground.
We turn the corner and head for home. It is a Saturday afternoon in the Ballincollig Regional Park in Cork and we’re completing our 5k parkrun. By our own admission, Muhammad and I are no world beaters, but we enjoy the craic, the banter and the slagging.
It's not lost on either of us that after I cross the finish line, I can embrace my two daughters – Muhammad’s are almost 7,000 kilometres away.
Recently he received the wonderful news that his application to remain in Ireland had been approved and he is now in the process of moving into a house with others. There is still some way to go before he can be reunited with his family but now, at least, the prospect feels real.
Muhammad, who teaches me Urdu, is no longer an asylum seeker. But even when he was, the label seemed so unnecessarily cumbersome. It didn’t belong.
In the Sanctuary Runners our focus is on Solidarity, Friendship and Respect. The labels, many of them temporary, can distort reality. We see the person, not the label and we look at who you are, not what you are.
We don’t overthink what we do or try to fix the world. We just run. We make noise, we take pictures, in pre-Covid times we embraced a lot, we encourage, we motivate, we develop everyday ordinary, healthy, joyous, organic friendships.
And in doing so we share so much with our friends, many of whom happen to live in Direct Provision.
We share stories, coffee, experiences, problems and we share silences. Those moments when you’re running shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing heavily and experiencing that precious sense of togetherness and community. No words necessary.
Since we started running in January, 2018 we haven’t looked back. There are now over 2,000 Sanctuary Runners across Ireland in 22 different locations. Some are ‘proper runners’ and more power to them – but the majority of us are runners, joggers and walkers who’ll hardly make the Olympics at this stage.
That said we have Olympians on board, the likes of Claire Lambe (Rower), Rob Heffernan (Speed walker, Olympic Bronze medallist, World Champion), Marian Heffernan (Sprinter) and Olive Loughnane (4-time Olympian and former World Champion).
Not to mention the 40 plus Irish sports stars who will be helping us out for World Refugee Day this Saturday, June 20th. Along with UNHCR Ireland we’re staging one of our online #SanctuaryStrength classes with Claire Lambe and those taking part will include people living in Direct Provision.
Our hope is to build in Ireland though of course Covid19 presents obvious challenges. But where there’s a will there’s a way.
We’re now also looking at expanding across Europe, Australia, and America – recently we were contacted by an NGO in the Cameroon who’d like to work with us, and these are now opportunities we must consider.
Because the simplicity of what we do can be adapted wherever in the world there is migration and all the challenges that brings.
All you need are our blue running tops, running gear, some water and a veneer of organisation!
We are a non-political movement, we don’t campaign or protest. We understand the importance of these actions and as individuals, members are free to do what they want – but we want the Sanctuary Runners to be a place where everyone is welcome. Indeed, in keeping with our ethos of equality and respect, we’re as keen to include those who have reservations about immigration as those who fight for better rights for migrants. The only way to shape change is through education and experience.
At different stages in our evolution we’ve been so fortunate to have made alliances with funders and entities which share our vision. We’re so grateful to everyone at Gym+Coffee for welcoming us into your community and, of course, the kind gesture is reciprocated.
As long as we’re putting one foot in front of each other and moving forward, we’re not moving backwards.
If you would like to join the Sanctuary Runners we’d be overjoyed to have you on board. There is no cost and as we focus on solidarity rather than charity you’ll never be asked to give or fundraise a cent for us. Just bring a smile – the rest will fall into place.
To find out more about the Sanctuary Runners visit: Sanctuaryrunners.ie or firstname.lastname@example.org