At RUN, our vision is three-fold: to create a resilient and empowered refugee community, to overcome barriers to refugees, and to build a city where refugees are integrated into the community and are respected and treated as equals in Hong Kong. That’s why we were so encouraged to witness these three elements working in tandem at a recent Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association (HKAAA) meet.
George* is a young man who came to Hong Kong five years ago, fleeing from ethnic and gang violence in his home in East Africa. George’s experience at home, combined with the difficult journey to escape, and the uncertainty of being stuck in limbo in Hong Kong, meant that he needed support to heal emotionally and to overcome trauma, and he was referred to RUN.
George started attending our weekly mixed-gender track training sessions to work on his physical and emotional fitness. George says this about attending our track sessions, “It made a huge difference. I got the support I needed to solve issues in my life. Now I think about training every day. It keeps me busy and focused while waiting in Hong Kong.”
While George has always enjoyed soccer and exercising, he discovered a love and aptitude for running at our training sessions. With the encouragement of the RUN team and our volunteer coaches, George developed his running skills, grew his confidence, and a big dream started forming in his head – he wanted to become a professional short-distance runner.
Last year, George ran one of his best races at the Malcolm Phillips Memorial 5km, averaging an incredible pace of 15kmh. “I was flying,” he says as he remembers the race. With this achievement under his belt, George decided to challenge himself further by joining the Athletic Veterans of Hong Kong (AVOHK) club, with the goal of eventually competing in HKAAA track meets. “AVOHK is a great mix of local runners, and as a RUN athlete, I am very proud to be part of it,” says George.
In line with their ethos of giving back to the community and encouraging people to stay active, the AVOHK club has been a big support to RUN since the early days. Three core AVOHK members, Dave Smith, Catherine Leonard, and Charlotte Cutler, started volunteering their time to coach our Thursday night track sessions three years ago, and continue to do so today. AVOHK also generously provides free entries to RUN athletes to participate in their races, giving our refugees an opportunity to connect with the local running community and boost their self-esteem through achieving their goals. Colin Whittington, Chairman of AVOHK shares, “My favourite thing about working with RUN is the happy smiling faces that you see at the end of the races – seeing them you really feel like you have made a difference.”
AVOHK was eager to support George to chase his passions, but HKAAA requires competitors to hold an HKID, something that refugees don’t have. Over six months, the AVOHK committee persisted in advocating on George’s behalf, and finally in January this year, George received approval to represent the AVOHK team in his very first 200m track race. This was a special moment for George, who took his dream one step further, but it was also especially significant for the wider refugee community, who have never been able to participate in HKAAA meets before.
George’s philosophy to “never give up in what you do” carries him on his journey towards healing, freedom, and achievement. This track meet represents the first 200m in a longer road towards refugees being integrated into the local community. Thank you to AVOHK for joining us in the fight for refugee inclusion in sports and beyond and we can’t wait to share more of these milestones with you in 2019!
* Name has been changed