THE Dalit children of Nepal are ‘untouchables’, the lowest of the country’s caste hierarchy who are shunned and not allowed to mix with those from higher castes. Living in extreme poverty with no chance of an education, prospective employment is a mere dream. A future of slavery could be all they have to look forward to.
Dalit life is a far cry from the comfort and basic human rights we take for granted in Northern Ireland. But when Richard McBride from Ballynure wanted to help these children, he could have chosen an easier option than what he has planned.
Richard, along with Andrew Topping, Robert Kennedy and Ralph Mercer, have formed the Stand by Me Northern Ireland team that will join an international field of runners for the world’s highest marathon on Mount Everest this May. They are believed to be the only local team participating in the world-renowned event.
Andrew and Richard are both trekking to base camp and running the full marathon. Robert will be taking part in the trek and Ralph is supporting his team-mates through training and fundraising. Andy McMullan, who has past experience of what is required for extreme, high altitude treks, is the team’s official trainer.
As the name suggests, they will be taking part in aid of charity, Stand by Me, which works with children in crisis across the world, including those in Nepal. The dedicated team has been training for 18 months in local trail and mountain races to prepare for the course which extends over 26 miles of rough terrain at altitudes of up to 18,000ft, which is more than six times higher than Slieve Donard’s summit.
Looking ahead to the event, Richard commented: “The health, nutrition and opportunity to even consider this challenge is a privilege. Thank you to the team and everyone supporting us. Local mountain running experts including Peter Bell, Hannah Shields and Andy McMullan have provided invaluable advice.
“Our training schedule requires focus and we are fitting this around family and work commitments. We are gradually building strength and stamina in preparation for this unique marathon and the Antrim Hills, Mournes and Cavehill are ideal terrain to test our endurance. Winter evenings and dawn training sessions in the sub-zero temperatures are only a fraction of the extreme cold and exposure we expect in the Himalayas but they are good practice.”
He continued: “Everest Marathon race day temperatures can range from -10oC to +30oC making kit selection a difficult choice. Altitude is the most unpredictable challenge we face as we can’t envisage exactly how our bodies will acclimatise and perform. At 18,000ft there is less than 50 per cent oxygen available, making the most basic of physical and mental activities taxing.
“Nepal is a stunning country of brave, kind and gracious people. Known locally as Sagarmatha, Mount Everest is a revered landmark making this marathon a fitting and significant challenge, especially for a few people who ought to know better! We hope to bring attention to the work Stand by Me is carrying out with children in crisis across Nepal.”
Michael Holmes of Stand by Me, Ireland, added: “We are delighted that the team is taking part in the world’s highest marathon in aid of our work. We believe they are the first ever local team to do so and they have raised more than £7,000 for the Stand by Me children’s home in Hetauda, Nepal, so far. Many of the 123 children cared for here are Dalits from Himalayan mountain villages.
“At our home the children have their own accommodation, receiving love and care in an environment that allows them to grow in confidence, feeling secure and special - very different to the hopelessness they may have once felt.
“Nepal is landlocked between India and Tibet and has suffered ten years of civil war during which more than 15,000 people were killed and thousands made homeless. Malnutrition, malaria and dengue fever claim many lives in the country each year. Hundreds of thousands of children live in isolated remote mountainous villages where the possibility of an education is simply a dream. Illiteracy, hunger, child trafficking and child labour add to the despair in which children are trapped. It is because of the injustice they suffer and their lack of basic rights that Stand by Me is providing loving homes for the children at the Hetauda Children’s Home and educational scholarships to 290 children at the Hetauda Academy.
“This is a landmark year for the marathon as it is 60 years since the first successful ascent of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953, and we wish Richard and the team the best of luck.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about Stand by Me and how the charity helps children in crisis should visit www.standby.me or contact the local office on 028 9335 2318.
Anyone who would like to support Richard and the team in their fundraising effort can donate online at www.standby.me/projects/the-highest-marathon-in-the-world.
Follow the team’s progress on their blog - www.intothinhair.blogspot.co.uk