Every year 1.2 million children are sold into slavery. That's two new slaves a minute. They work in brothels, in sweatshops and on street corners across the world, often much closer to home than we think. Two friends and I set up Run for Love 1000 to try to help some of these children.
In a few weeks we'll be heading to Odessa, Ukraine to begin a 1000 mile run across Eastern Europe to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The endgame is to raise enough money to build a centre in the UK which can give children who have been trafficked the love and support they need.
Meet the team:
How it all began:
Tom, Guy and I did a run in the Sahara desert last April called Marathon des Sables. After 7 days tramping across 150 miles of sand our feet were bleeding but we were smiling. We spent a night in an oasis town near the finish eating tagine and drinking ourselves to stupor. We woke up the next morning and thought, what next? That's when plans for Run for Love began.
1000 miles was the basis of the idea. Running's magnetic. There's something attractive about going for days on end by foot. It has a primitive draw.
The following months were spent map gazing. We scouted India, the road to Rome, the Californian coast, all in search of a 1000 mile stretch of pristine land to run across. It was at this stage that we met Tim and Gaz from Love146 and they told us their plans for the home for trafficked children. They told us how many children are trafficked each year and how it is happening throughout Europe. We were shocked. We wanted to help Love146 fund the home. If it was happening in Europe, we could run Europe. It's not a place many of us think of when we hear the word slavery, but across Europe people are traded. We opted to go east: for mountains, quiet roads, and some of the places where children are at the highest risk of being trafficked on our continent.
The lesson of Forrest Gump
Buried deep in web design, finessing the route, learning to stretch, someone remembered Forrest Gump. What was so cool about Forrest was that he got hundreds of others to take to the open road. With Forrest in mind, we suggested to some friends that they come running with us in Europe. People liked the idea. We approached a few more and soon the team had grown from three to ten. They'd fly to wherever we'd be on a certain date and join for a few days or a week.
Slowly it snowballed. People were beginning to email about joining - from Ireland, Croatia, the States. By October 40 runners were coming for 100 miles or more, all raising money to help Love146 set up the home. The cause seemed to resonate. Slavery, rightly, gets people worked up.
Running 100s of miles isn't everyone's thing, so we began to think of ways to harness peoples' will to get involved. We reckoned organising a day that anyone could run or walk could be the thing. In November I flew to Dubrovnik and met a marathon organiser to talk about putting on a trail race for the day we arrived. We drove around the mountains between the Bosnian border and the Adriatic searching the perfect trail. After nine hours we had a route: hills, views out to sea, 16 miles of rough track, and the race is on.
Now Run for Love has 130 runners and counting. Some are running 400 miles across the Balkans carrying 10 kilo packs. Others are walking 16 miles through the hills outside Dubrovnik. Here's why.