Running for humanity (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

The runners

A photographic exhibition illuminating the lives of people affected by humanitarian crises

It has been a while since the Cairo Runners last gathered residents of the capital to conquer the city’s streets. But last Friday the group organised a special run to celebrate World Humanitarian Day and raise awareness about humanitarian disasters in countries like Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

Around 3,000 people teamed up with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Arab League, UN Women, UNICEF Egypt, UNHCR Egypt, UNISDR, the International Organisation for Migration, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UNFPA Arab States Regional Office to mark World Humanitarian Day 2015 with a city run.

The organisers led the crowd of young men and women for a warm-up before taking off through the city streets, occasionally passing through honking traffic. The run in the heart of Cairo marked the start of the Shared Humanity Campaign, which aims to raise awareness about humanitarian work across the region by joining up with this year’s Global Digital Storytelling Campaign, designed by the United Nations and partners to mark World Humanitarian Day.

“We’re gearing up for the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security, and we need youth volunteers. We believe that young people are the leaders of the future and that they can mobilise others around the issues of peace and security,” said Emad Karim, coordinator of the UN’s Women Programmes in Cairo.

“The Global Forum for Youth, Peace and Security is just a few short weeks away, but we need youth leadership now. All young people need to do is start a conversation by using the hashtag Youth4Peace on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share stories about young change-makers and ask their friends their thoughts,” Karim said.

The “I Declare Campaign,” part of the Global Forum, is about having youth voices at the forefront of the international agenda for peace and security.

In the first step, young people are encouraged to write down “I declare” followed by whatever they think the world needs to know relating to peace and security and what they will do to contribute to it.

In a second step, they will take a photograph of their declaration, and in a third step they will post it on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag Youth4peace.

During the World Humanitarian Day a photographic exhibition was organised to illuminate the lives of people affected by humanitarian crises.

Whether young people contribute to the hashtag or just click through, the campaign spotlights the stories of people living though some of today’s greatest humanitarian crises, creating a sense of unity and courage in the face of disaster and underlining our common humanity at the end of the day, Karim explained.

Running in Cairo may be somewhat unusual but it has grown in popularity in recent years, in large part thanks to the Cairo Runners. The group began in 2012 with a series of runs through central Cairo and surrounding suburbs. When they ran in Zamalek for the first time in 2012, only 60 runners showed up, but this ballooned to over 4,000 participants when a half marathon was held in February 2014.

“Our group is all about running. What we are looking for is to encourage people to start running in public spaces,” said Aya Safwat, 27, a group coordinator.

“We believe running is not just about the physical act. It’s also a journey through your surroundings. It’s about what you feel and overcome as you experience and explore a city, and that’s something that can never be accomplished on a treadmill.”

Last week’s run was not the first time the group has run for a cause, but Cairo Runners now aims to make their activities even more meaningful by running for special causes every now and then. The group has previously participated in runs organised to mark Mothers’ Day, Earth Day and UNICEF Egypt.

World Humanitarian Day is celebrated every year on 19 August in memory of aid workers who lost their lives in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. The day celebrates the world’s unsung heroes who brave kidnapping, killing and attacks in a world where 80 per cent of humanitarian aid is delivered to civilians in areas torn apart by conflict.

In an bid to build a global sense of momentum this year, the day’s organisers asked specially designated “messengers of humanity” to perform a social action on the day and share it on social networks.

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