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My Marathon Journey takes me to the Czech Republic

Children belong in families,
not orphanages
Lumos voices

My Marathon Journey takes me to the Czech Republic

There are only a few days to go before the London Marathon and from this point on it is ‘recovery’ before the race: short training runs combined with strength and conditioning work for my poor knees!

I wrote in my previous blog that the training has been tougher than I thought it would be. However, I have been keeping Lumos’ mission clear in my mind to motivate myself. Remembering the cause can be particularly difficult after 18.9 miles, but a quick reminder of WHY you are running is a great way to keep you motivated when your legs really (really) want to stop.

Two weeks ago, my role took me over to the Czech Republic, where there are currently over 9,000 children living in institutions. At least 98% of them have one living parent (see the estimated number of children in orphanages in our 'Global Numbers' factsheet here).

While I was there, I joined our Child Participation Team at a school in Chrudim, a town about an hour and a half by train from Prague. Here Lumos have been running interactive sessions in schools to teach children about the effects of institutionalisation, recording their perceptions of it and how learning about it made them feel.

I can honestly say I was overwhelmed with the response we received from the children. It was incredible to hear how articulate and thoughtful a group of 12 year olds could be, when the subject was so far away from anything they had experienced. Most of the children knew few other children with disabilities and had very little contact with children from institutions in the community.

One boy in the class remarked very early in the session that “a lot of people don’t think about how important the family is”, a sentiment that the whole class (and Lumos team) agreed with.

We heard from a care-leaver who gave the young-people in the class some insight in to what life was like living in an institution in the Czech Republic. She spoke about the lack of privacy she had, having to construct a make-shift ‘room’ in a dorm she shared with others to ensure she had some private space.

She spoke of her time in the ‘Diagnostic Centre’, a placement where children spend 3-6 months before being moved in to an institution. When at the centre she had simple things that most teenagers in Europe have access to taken away from her, such as a mobile phone, make-up and the internet. At the institution, she was given a daily programme to follow, and was only allowed out for a walk in the community for two hours a week (with a possible extension for good behaviour).

Perhaps the most upsetting part of her story for me was that she was needlessly separated from sharing a room with her siblings at a young age, because it was ’policy’ at the institution. This is just one example of how an institutional environment cannot accommodate the very simple wants and needs of an individual child, depriving this girl of any small sense of family she might have been able to keep.

She left the second session just after her speech because she had to get to work, and I am pleased to say that her life now is very different. She is an adult with a home, a job and a partner. She has been given great support from an NGO that helps care-leavers gain employment after leaving institutions.

Her story seems as if it has ended well.

However, she tells that group that her relationship with her mother is very distant, insisting that she “doesn’t need her”. The difficulties she faced throughout her time at the institution are obviously still very present.

I left the Czech Republic feeling inspired about Lumos’ work and how they are directly changing lives and teaching a better way to care for children in country, whilst also teaching the negative impacts of institutionalisation to the younger (future) generation. But I also left wondering how different the life-stories of 9,000 children in the Czech Republic could be if they and their families had access to proper community-care services.

I think I’ll make a mental note to think about my experience with the team on mile 19 of the race - and even if my knees do continue to hate me, I’ll keep on going for children who could be reunited with their families, if they were given the right support.

If you would like to fundraise for Lumos, or indeed want a full rundown of my training plan, you can email the fundraising team at fundraising@wearelumos.org with your idea. We would love to hear from you.

Fundraising update: I’ve now made 122% of my target and have raised £2,451.00 for Lumos. Hooray! Thanks for the support so far.

(I put a few of the images of my run up on Lumos’ Instagram here if you would like to see London’s River Thames in all its glory).