First steps for Freedom Run

Freedom Run 5000 is off to a good start. The first 10-km, fundraising marathon to build classrooms for girls in Afghanistan attracted 37 runners and pulled in about $5,000 at Heritage Ranch on Sunday.

Cindy McLaren

Cindy McLaren

Freedom Run 5000 is off to a good start.

The first 10-km, fundraising marathon to build classrooms for girls in Afghanistan attracted 37 runners and pulled in about $5,000 at Heritage Ranch on Sunday.

“That’s enough for one classroom,” said organizer Azalea Lehndorff.

The goal is to raise $500,000 to educate 5,000 girls by holding runs across Canada that will add up to 5,000 km.

Lehndorff said the goal may sound daunting, but it’s actually quite doable if just 5,000 Canadians donate $100 each.

Humanitarian organization A Better World, based in Lacombe, is working with students from Canadian University College who organized Freedom Run 5000.

Since last fall, a total of $60,000 has been raised to build four classrooms for 400 girls at one school and eight classrooms for 2,000 girls at another school in the Sheberghan District and the province of Jozjan, in northern Afghanistan.

“We have the approval and we’ve visited the site. Work will be starting in the next month or so,” said Lehndorff who was in Afghanistan in the spring for the grand opening of a school with six new classrooms and 10 refurbished classrooms for 3,000 girls.

A Better World funded the construction.

Now they’re looking to raise $200,000 to turn an old Soviet armoury into a school. Currently, there’s one building with bullet holes in the ceiling. An old tank sits in the playground.

“There’s over 2,000 girls going to school and it’s all just tents — incredible. We would really like to build about 30 classrooms.”

Lehndorff said because of the way the Taliban restricted education to women, school buildings for women don’t exist and 70 per cent of schools are not in enclosed spaces.

In Afghanistan, where war has pretty much driven out the Taliban, people welcome the opportunity to improve the education system for women, she said.

Statistically, a woman will put back 90 per cent of her income back into the community if you provide her with some education in a third world country.

While a man will put in 30 per cent, she said.

“Empowering women is one of the best ways to make a change.”

Lehndorff said Afghans see a hopeful future and judging from support for the projects, Central Albertans also think building classrooms is a sustainable way to help.

All the school projects are for Grades 1 to 12.

Freedom Run 5000 participant Gail Smith, 44, of Red Deer, raised almost $800 by sending out e-mails to friends and through Facebook.

“All you hear about is the war. It really appealed to me that people were going to be doing some good over there, especially for young girls,” said Smith who has a teenage daughter.

“We take education so much for granted here.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com