|Chris running in the Congo/Fjona Hill|
I spent an evening in a bar a couple of weeks ago, listening to Chris Jackson explaining why he felt compelled to run 12 marathons in 12 months – including one in the Congo, one of the most dangerous places on earth. He was running, he said, because “saying sorry was not enough”. He had met a woman who had been violently raped in a refugee camp in Goma, eastern Congo, and all he could tell her was “sorry.” He knew she was just one of thousands of women being routinely raped, tortured and killed in this region. He felt he couldn’t just walk away and do nothing. So he did the only thing he could think of: running.
“Running 12 marathons in 12 months was a conversation-starter. I wanted to do something that made people sit up and take notice so that more people were aware of the Congo and those who have and continue to suffer in silence.”
More than 5.4 people have been killed in the brutal conflict in eastern Congo and more than 2 million people have been displaced. Sexual violence in the Congo is the worst in the world, according to the UN.
While running in the Congo, Chris met women who had been attacked by soldiers and rebels, as well as men who had raped, and recorded their stories on his blog and Twitter, and they formed the basis for a BBC World Service report and Channel 4 documentary.
I had been trying to place stories about the atrocities in the DRC for a long time, but editors were not too keen: it was not something many readers wanted to read and, because the war has been raging there for so many years, the story was not topical enough. Chris’s challenge provided a way to engage the readers. And the fact that he is running his 12th and last marathon this Sunday, offered editors a perfect news hook for the story.
I approached The Guardian as they were the most likely to want the story. The editor was interested, but had reservations. “He isn’t Eddie Izzard, is he?” the editor said. But to me, the story is stronger precisely because Chris isn't a celebrity. He is just an ordinary guy who was so touched by a woman’s plight on the other side of the world, that he was willing to put his life on hold and push his body to the extremes. I find this incredibly beautiful and inspiring. And it gives me so much hope.
The Guardian did commission the story and gave it nice play on Friday (Dec 3). You can read it here.
To read Chris’s blog, click here or/and donate to a programme helping women in the Congo rebuild their lives and regain their dignity, click here. For more information, click here