A “fun-run”, they said, the Mongolian peacekeepers nearing the finishing line of their tour of duty in Pariang. Fifteen kilometres, they added, and the scepticism among eavesdroppers was palpable.
But boy/girl/child of other self-declared gender, were they needlessly worried or what? It turned out that there was plenty of fun in the sun to be had when Blue Helmets, humanitarians and locals metaphorically and almost literally ran or walked the distance in each other’s shoes, thus further cementing their shared sentiment of being one community.
On a not-so-lazy Sunday morning, 42 women and men got together on the dusty outskirts of Pariang town, at this point not-so-sweaty. Ready to cheer them on was a crowd of hundreds.
“‘To be honest, we need more events like here. They bring us all together in a way few other things do,” remarked Angello Paul ever so sagely as he observed the spectacle about to commence.
After a warm-up consisting of Mongolian peacekeepers treating athletes and non-athletes alike to tunes from their home turf, the runners took off.
“Participating is an exhilarating experience. The sun makes it challenging, but the overwhelming support keeps us going,” said Athiep Dhieu as she briefly paused to give us a comment, referring not only to encouraging onlookers but also to the water points and first aid teams lining the streets.
In fact, and to avoid unwanted close contact between endurance contestants and cattle and other beasts, local police on motorbikes made sure to keep visible animals away.
While every participant completing the gruelling distance was given a hero’s welcome by the motley lot of supporters, their most thunderous roars of approval and admiration were reserved for the young local girl who finished last.
Dust mixed with tears of joy, ululations with never-ending applause, and profuse sweat with free-flowing adrenaline, because it was just one of those moments.
“This wasn’t about winning, but about finishing together, as a community,” said Colonel Erdenebayar, Commander of the Mongolian peacekeepers in South Sudan, and an eloquent speaker at that.
Jolanda Van Dijk, Head of the UN Refugee Agency’s sub-office in Jamjang, was similarly moved and impressed.
“I’m heartened to see refugees from Ajoung-thok participate. It demonstrates the inclusive spirit of the event and the equal contribution everyone brings to our community. We are hoping for further collaboration with our UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) partners to organize other events,” she remarked.
A keen observer could not fail to discern the heart-warming pride she doubtlessly took in two of the running refugees finishing first and second.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).