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Aussie marathoner Samantha Gash is running 3800km across India for an important cause.

Samantha Gash is an ultra-marathoner from Australia who is running approximately 3800km across India to raise awareness and funds to support World Vision projects providing access to quality education. Find out more: www.runindia.org.au

Flickering lights illuminate a dark hall way, filled with the echoes of babies wailing as their mothers form an orderly line waiting to see the doctor. Their faces show the despair as they know their babies are staring death in the eyes, but their patience shows they recognise this problem is not unique to them.

It’s a common site at the malnutrition clinic in Alwar, a primitive hospital which services the region. Families travel for hours along incredibly bumpy dirt roads with their children in their arms in the hope they can be saved. It’s incredibly bleak, but I’m told before World Vision provided new facilities and child friendly paintings throughout the rooms it was even more traumatic.

It must be terrifying for these mothers.

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

I’ve spent the last two years reading countless documents and speaking to experts to learn about the communities I will visit and the people I will meet, but witnessing this is completely different.

I’ve read the statistics that there are more malnourished children in India than parts of Sub-Saharian Africa, a staggering fact, yet nothing can prepare you to witness a mother’s distress as she lays next to her child, many of whom look even too exhausted to cry and express their pain and hunger.

When I planned this project, the community visits were the cornerstone of the project however I also thought it would give the body a chance to recoup from the previous days efforts. However, they have proven to be emotionally draining and constantly remind me of the potential benefit that Run India can create. I consistently want to do more and today's visit remind me how lucky I am to be born in Australia with access to a public health care system.

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As we make our way through the facility we hear the story of Choti, a young girl we are due to meet later that day, who came to the clinic weighing just six kilograms. However after 10 days of treatment, Choti, was restored to a manageable level of health and is now living with her family in a nearby community.

She received intravenous fluids as well as a specialised therapeutic diet during her stay. Whilst Choti was being treated, her parents were advised on how to continue providing her adequate nutrition upon returning to their home in the community. Had Choti not received the nutritional treatment, there was a very real chance she would not have survived.

It’s not the type of story you expect to hear when someone says they are running for education, but it’s reflective of what we’ve continually learnt over the past week. Education is not just about building more schools or providing more teachers, the complexity of the barriers children face are far greater than that and change vastly based on their region, environment, social and political factors, and in many cases these challenges begin even before they are born.

Being born a female has even greater challenges, with gender bias, personal safety, and early marriage all creating even further challenges, we saw this in Alwar. The cycle is vicious, and we heard around the challenges that can occur when young girls marry at such a young age without education, neither formal nor practical. Often they are neither equipped with the education and life experience required for their own life, let alone that of the new born life they will inevitably introduce shortly after marriage.

In Jaipur, we witnessed the cultural barriers with one young girl badly beaten in school and rather than the bullies be punished, they were rewarded with her being asked to leave the school by the principle, purely because these boys were from a caste system higher than hers. Fortunately in this case, World Vision has designed a program for those who drop out of school to bring them up to age appropriate education standards and help re-enter the system, and she has since done so with great results. However she is one of the fortunate ones.

The vehicle of running has allowed me to traverse this country and use this platform to share these incredible stories, and provide a voice to those who’ve never had one before. The challenge for me has been exhausting, and at times the body asks why, but the resilience of these children reminds me this is only temporary but the change it can provide is lasting and for one (or hopefully many) of these children it will change their lives.

As I arrive in Delhi, I look forward to the next chapter of this journey as I prepare to meet a group of young girls who’ve been working with the Delhi police to learn self-defence which has empowered them to walk the streets with confidence, and importantly pass on these lessons to the next generation. It’s another example of education, in this case practical, and for these communities these life skills are so critical in beginning to break the cycle of poverty.

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