Watching Mo Farah sprint to a glorious second gold medal in the 5000m race last Saturday night, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of awe.
I had read a newspaper interview earlier that day with Mo’s elder brother, Faisal Farah, who lives in Somaliland (a self-proclaimed independent state which remains unrecognized internationally), and works on his farm nestled deep in the African savannah. Although I knew the basic details of Mo Farah’s life – Somali-born, lived in the UK since childhood and hugely philanthropic – the interview with his brother was an inspiration.
Mo was born in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu. Although his father was a businessman, and his family lived a life of relative middle-class comfort, the political chaos soon saw Somalia hurtle into a brutal civil war lasting over 20 years. Mo’s family, who originated from Somaliland, were forced to flee back to that region. And once there, they lived in an IDP camp.
When I was in Sudan I interviewed several people who had lived for many years in IDP camps – places for ‘internally displaced persons’. An ‘internally displaced person’ is someone who flees their home, but not their country. Someone who crosses borders to escape becomes a refugee. But whether you’re an IDP or refugee, life is difficult. The camps are places of little dignity – so many people squeezed into tiny tents – and there is no way of making a sustainable living, so you survive on hand-outs from aid agencies.
Imagine that – Mo Farah, double gold medal winning Olympic athlete – spent his early childhood in a refugee camp in the middle of a warring country. There would have been no water, no decent toilets, no proper houses, no schools, limited medical help. And he’s somehow gone from that – from hell – to record-breaking sporting achievement and worldwide adulation.
I can’t stop picturing all the millions of little children around the world who are currently living in hell. Maybe they are trapped in the blood bath that is Syria, or dying of hunger in the Sahel. Think of all the future Mo Farahs among them. Think of who they could be, of the lives they could have.
I hope against hope that, like Mo Farah, all those children someday have the opportunity to move on to a brighter life – to a life where existence is more than simply a battle to survive and keep body and soul together, but where you can fulfil every little bit of your potential, follow every dream you have, light all of your hopes.
End note: This day last year I was in Kenya. I’d spent two weeks visiting Practical Action’s work across the country and was getting ready to go home. I woke up on the morning of my final day in Nairobi hugely excited about my last field trip, to the library and community centre built by Practical Action in Kibera, the huge sprawling mass of a slum just outside the city centre. And then I discovered – via Facebook – that my grandfather, Michael, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years, had died. Michael was a man who spent his life playing and watching sport, in awe of athletic achievement. I know he would have loved Mo Farah. He was a reluctant hoper – but a hoper nonetheless. We need more of them. So this one is for my Grandad.