These marathon runners will travel 770 km to talk to schoolchildren about child abuse and trafficking 

While the fitness marathon is the new cool nowadays, this group of eight wants to tell the abuse victims that it's time to speak up and take charge of their lives. And all that in just 16 days.  
Covering 770 km, the group will be running from Chennai to Kovalam in Trivandrum in 16 days
Covering 770 km, the group will be running from Chennai to Kovalam in Trivandrum in 16 days

Sixteen days of running, a team of eight and one mission --- to reach out to students in schools and teach them how to fight and report child abuse. The marathon named '2 Million Steps to Hope' began on Saturday and is organised by US-based NGO Sparrow's Hope in association with Rotary Club, Chennai. 

It is a marathon run against the trafficking of women and children. Covering 770 km, the group will be running from Chennai to Kovalam in Trivandrum in 16 days. "We believe that we have the capacity and opportunity to prevent these things from happening if we bring awareness well in advance. So we use our feet to run and walk and cycle and speak at schools and colleges on our routes to empower young women and kids," says J Sathya, Chairman, Abuse Awareness and Prevention, Rotary Club. 

But why running? John Moriarty, who works to curb child trafficking with Sparrow's Hope, has an interesting answer to this question. "I have an organisation in the US and we try to curb human trafficking. I am also an active marathon runner in my country. So, a couple of years ago, I had thought of using my running capabilities for something good in terms of drawing attention towards the issue of human trafficking," he clears our doubt.

Flag off: The marathon named '2 Million Steps to Hope' began on Saturday at Sacred Heart School, Sholinganallur in association with Vidhaigal Foundation

This isn't the first time that John has used his talent to fight the social evil in India. "Last year, we covered 1600 km between Mumbai and Bangalore. We ran 50 km a day and finished the task in less than a month. It was a fulfilling experience," he says.

We are sure this year will be no different considering the excitement in his voice. "It is an honour to be part of this. I always had a fascination towards India and its people. Therefore, here I am running on its roads," he laughs. 

If John is to be believed, his team is as excited as he is. "We are just ready to run. We are kicking it off today," he emphasises as we get curious about how will they actually run for 16 days. "We have all that we need in these 16 days. The resources that are needed are pretty simple. We have two vehicles following us, we also have two bicycles. Other than that, all we need to do is just drink a lot of water and eat a lot of bananas. I think that will do," he smiles. "Of course, we stop for lunch and lodging whenever we can," he adds probably to put to rest the astonishment on the reporter's face.

That's one part of the marathon. Godfrey Fernandez, the man behind this marathon in India, tells what happens once they enter the schools and talk to the children. What is it that they tell them? "We spoke to thousands of students, particularly girls. Many times, they don't realise their own potential in society. They don't use the freedom and capacity they have to find the place they actually deserve in Indian society," he begins. 

So what is it that stop these women and girls from speaking up? He tries to find a solution to that. "The problem in Indian culture is that the girls are not allowed or given the space to talk about anything wrong that happens to them. The one who has offended can speak whatever he wants because he knows that whatever he has spoken or done will never come out. All we want to tell the students is that 'Hey, you don't have to put up with the nonsense that people do too'. Whether it is the in the family or institution or the community, they don't have to take it," he explains. 

"I don't know where they got the understanding that women are the weaker sex from. We try to tell them that they take care of family, work, kids and to add to it pressure and blames. They are actually stronger than men. That is what we try to tell them," he adds. 

As the group deals with thousands of kids on a single trip, it is not possible to keep a tab on the feedback and progress of their efforts. But that does not let them down. Instead, Godfrey has immense faith that the girls will speak up whenever the need be. "We figured that the students understood what we wanted to say and they were extremely happy that something was asking them to take the authority. And that's where we have sown the seed. Whether we are there to see it or not, we have planted seeds. Maybe we will never see the results of it but I am sure they are going to remember us when they face a crisis," Godfrey concludes with this hope. 

When asked about John about his best moments from last year's marathon, he laughed and said, "There were many but the best was when we finished. We ran into the ocean in Mumbai and we hugged each other and we were really happy."

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