On June 15, Jennifer Pasiciel and the Love4Gambia team began running at the small cinder block in the middle of a farm field straddling Senegal and The Gambia in West Africa. Their destination is Banjul and the Atlantic Ocean, 424km away. They intend to make it on foot, one stride at a time.
Two years ago, with the same team of Dodou “Spider” Bah, Kebba Suso and Pa Modou Sarr, I made it to the Atlantic Ocean. I suppose I blazed the trail to Banjul. The run was my creation. I was the first to run clear across the country. It’s not my run though. It never was. Not even as I became the first person to complete it.
In 2011, it wasn’t even a solo run. It was a team run. The run belongs to the team. The run belong to The Gambia. It belongs to Pa Modou and Kebba and the exceptionally talented staff of the NSGA in Gambia. It belongs to the young students who have been lining the road in the first 3 days of the run, waiting for Jennifer and team to run by their school. See, they are the recipients of Jennifer’s run and the money raised by it. The money goes directly to their peer health education programs, where they learn life saving knowledge like how to prevent malaria, STIs and HIV; how to avoid water bourne illness; how to make decisions about their reproductive health. And maybe most significant for youth in this male-dominated society- they learn about gender rights and gender equity.
The run belongs to the mamas in the farm field who work hard all day to provide for the basic needs of their families. They know that a “toubab” (foreigner) is running for their children- to provide them with education that they would not otherwise receive without NSGA. They will be waiting for Jennifer, to thank her and the team. I think the team will owe them more thanks as I know that these mamas will lighten their kilometer-weary feet more than any amount of fuel and rest could.
This is the second time that I’ve watched the Love4Gambia run take flight with a new runner. Take flight without me. Last year, I watched Andrea Moritz run with the team. It’s emotional for me. I feel emotions that I can’t quite pull apart. Pride, mostly. Satisfaction. Extreme joy for what Jennifer and Cielianna will experience. Conviction that one person can make a different. Faith in the goodness of humanity. More faith in the tenacity and strength of Gambian women and children. I don’t feel anything close to envy or jealousy that someone else is doing my run. Because like I said, it’s not my run.
On the second day of Jenn’s run, a young boy named Abdoullie ran alongside Jenn for 6km in 40 degree heat wearing jeans and sandals. He ran with her because he know that she was running for young people. The Love4Gambia run belongs to him.
Supporting the team is super important to me. The best way to support the team is by donating to the team. I’m saving my donation for their victory day- the day they reach the ocean- this will be the best way to congratulate them. Click here to donate online.
I’ve also been supporting the team by writing them daily messages. I know firsthand how important these messages are. They are like little bursts of fuel when the road gets long. These messages probably best sum up my experience of Love4Gambia from the sidelines.
Here is my “transcript” of messages to the team to date.
Erin Poirier, Friday June 14, 9:29pm
Dear team. This will begin my daily notes to you while you run across the Gambia for Love4Gambia. Now that you’ve spent the day together in the car, across the most amazing countryside on earth, I’m thinking that you are feeling the beginning of team togetherness and I’m so lovingly pleased for you because I know your bond is going to grow with each kilometer you cover together and it’s going to be amazing.
I hope you’ll get some rest tonight in Basse, Basse, Basse, the hottest place on earth. The run will feel cool, Jennifer, after the night you’ll spend in a hot Basse bed! I hope you’ll see the old man on the farm tomorrow morning when you get up. And make sure you pay close attention to how you are feeling when you start your run in the morning- those steps are pretty special and belong in long term memory.
For god’s sake, no one trip and fall! Careful!
I wanted Regan to cheer for you tonight. Instead, she pulled some pages out of a book. So I think she means to think of her when you see road signs. Kinda like pages in a book.
I’m sending you so much love, until tomorrow
Pa Modou, Saturday, June 14, 3:31am (Atl Time)
Hello sister Erin… this is so nice of you.. everyone had the oplortunity to read through and am sure it got everyone excited we receiving so much love from you. Hello to Regan and everyone in there.. we begin in 30 mins as i write this measage. BANJUL CALLING
Erin Poirier, Saturday, June 15, 5:30pm
Dear team. Congratulations on day 1!! A big day because it the first. Now Jenn can be convinced of the reality- she is really going to run all the way across an African country with 3 of the best men on the planet.
I hope your day was full of lots of fun and laughs and waves and horn honking!
Now rest well and eat well. And be strong tomorrow
It was beautiful and sunny today in Halifax as I was thinking about you guys all day- it was perfect to think of the same sun warm on your faces too. I ran 8 km with Regan in the stroller. We will do 17 tomorrow to have 25 with you. We will run on all of your running days for you.
Regan isn’t quite walking yet but she “ran” about 500m in front of the house pushing this toy hippo- photo here. She’s even supporting you with her tiny steps.
Much love. (Don’t worry about responding- you don’t need too) xoxo Erin & Regan
Pa Modou , Saturday, June 15, 6:55pm
Thank you so much erin and Regan…. its really nice to read something from you and i read this aloud to the team w whiles we were havin our dinner… we rested today at the exact place we rested two years ago with you on the run… thank you so much for the support and keep them coming.
Erin Poirier, Sunday, June 16, 11:00am
It’s day 2 and you’ve done it! 50km in two days. You are off to an excellent start. Now the first thing is for Jen:
The road across an African country is run 20 minutes a time. You don’t need to think 20 minutes ahead. You don’t need to think 20km ahead. Just run 20 minutes at a time.
The full belly water/gatorade will lessen as your body adapts- promise!
I loved reading about all of your running together and supporting each other. All together, you are the greatest ally to legs that must run every day.
I loved the photos too! The children and youth are so excited for you! And they should be! And their excitement- put it in your pocket for when you need it. It’s so wonderful to see the team running together. And Jennifer is turning color already! “Toubab, you changed color!”
Regan and I ran this morning- 15km beginning at 6:40am. I liked knowing that we were running together at the same time. We ran down to Point Pleasant Park so that we could look out across the Atlantic Ocean and send your all strength. We were supposed to run 17km today for a 2 day total of 25 but Regan is heavy in the stroller so I think you’ll let the last 2km slide A photo coming in a second. She had a rattle in her hand and was shaking it for most of 1 hour 20 minutes- I think for you all!
I wish you lots of rest this afternoon and lots of food to refuel.
Tons of love,
Erin and Regan
Pa Modou, Sunday, June 16, 12:00pm
Wow this is amazin Sister Erin thank you like always
Erin Poirier, Monday, June 17, 8:18am
Here you are on day 3! Can you believe you’re going to have 3 days and more than 75km in when day 3 is complete!! Only the most serious marathon runners will run more than 75 kms in a whole week now here you are with that many kilometres in 3 days. Jennifer, you are a very strong athlete! And boys, you are so strong too! My message today is for you to all celebrate how strong you are. your strength will carry you to Banjul.
I’m looking at photos and Spider is much more muscular! Are you the eldest now? and has there been a boss each day?
It’s raining in Halifax today so maybe you’ll encounter some nice rain today too. I hope it will stop raining so that I can run with regan when I pick her up at the end of the work day.
Jennifer, I also have a message for you from Cliff today- he’s thinking about you. Here it is: Tell her to be patient. be in no hurry and enjoy this exceptional experience, wish her the best and all those that will meet her will come to appreciate what an outstanding person she is. they will come to know as we have.
Lots of love,
Erin and Regan
Pa Modou, Monday, June 17, 1:51pm
Thank you so much sister. This was read to the team during our rest time and we all laughed at you calling spider muscular hahahaha
Jennifer Pasiciel, Monday, June 17, 1:53pm
Thank you so much for the daily messages Erin. We always read them along with Cathy and “Aunty Debby” during our 20km rest break and it really carries us through to the end. Also, the kind words from Cliff were so nice to hear! The team is coming together so nicely (Pa and Spider pending…), but Mama Cie is keeping her two sons in line:) All the best to you and Regan. We are all thinking of you too lots as we are running, and I am blown away by your ability to do this run! Miss you lots and enjoy the Nova Scotia coolness:)