For the past few months, the people in the Burera district in northern Rwanda were treated to the spectacle of a Muzungu [foreign] doctor running literally in circles.
“They’d ask, ‘Where have you come from?’ And I’d say, ‘The hospital,’” recalls Mickey Sexton, a physician working with Inshuti Mu Buzima (IMB)—PIH’s partner organization in Rwanda. “And they’d ask, ‘Where are you going?’ And again I’d say, ‘The hospital.’ Then they’d laugh and look at their friends in a ‘Muzungus are weird, aren’t they’ kind of way,” he added. “For many locals, their lives are characterized by tough physical labor in the fields each day, I think it was odd to see me running in circles with no obvious purpose.”
Although truly living up to the literal translation of the word Muzungu—"someone who roams around aimlessly"—Mickey and fellow PIH physician Gene Kwan of IMB’s Rwinkwavu Hospital did have a purpose. They were training to run Kigali's International Peace Marathon to raise awareness and thousands of dollars to support IMB’s women’s health projects.
“The marathon is an awesome challenge and great way to round off what has been an incredible year in Rwanda,” says Mickey. “More importantly, it's an opportunity to raise money for PIH’s efforts to improve women’s health and a chance to demonstrate my belief that women’s health and female empowerment should be one of our priorities and form an integral part of our work.”
The community, while puzzled, was nonetheless enthusiastic to support the doctors’ mission, shouting words of encouragement and, at times, even running alongside.
“The training has been an experience in itself… Hundreds of people have joined me for a mile or two—or even ten,” says Mickey. “It's humbling when a 3-year-old, an 80-year-old man, or a woman carrying a sewing machine on her head can all keep up with you.”
A grueling course—26.2 miles up and down over the hills of Kigali in the scorching heat of a Rwandan afternoon—awaited them on May 23. But their friends and support team helped keep them motivated, as did their cause, particularly for Gene, who had only begun training to run with Mickey just five weeks before the race.
As the elite runners finished, and the crowds dissipated, and the temperatures climbed, Gene explained how he was able to keep his mission in sight. “I started to think about the hundreds of women who travel similar distances to seek care, and this helped me to continue running,” he said.
The duo crossed the finish line together in just 4 and a half hours, raising $2,100.