For the vast majority of Australians, it’s difficult to imagine having no access to any source of education. Australia is one of the most developed countries in the world, and as a result around 74% of Australians graduate high school by the age of 19. This is a stark contrast against the education levels in developing nations such as India. Currently in India, only 42% of children complete primary school and only 10% graduate high school. In addition, it’s estimated that 4% of Indian children never even start school. The reasons behind the low child education rates in India are complex, involving everything from politics, economy, geography, and culture. It’s an important issue that doesn’t have a simple solution, which is something that 31-year-old Australian ultramarathon runner Samantha Gash is working to highlight.
This August, in partnership with World Vision, Samantha will be running 3,800km across India to raise funds for six different projects focused on eliminating the barriers against children’s education. Samantha’s journey from West to East India will begin on August 22nd in Rajasthan, one of the driest deserts on Earth. From there, she will be running an average of 50km per day to finish her journey in the city of Shillong, 65km away from the wettest place on Earth.
Throughout her run, Samantha will be visiting 18 different World Vision program centres to highlight the various educational barriers faced by children across India, to an international audience.
“It’s not just about building a school. It’s about looking at the reasons why a child won’t go to school, such as nutrition…It’s very much about community development, and the programs are specific to the area in which the community is based in,” said Samantha.
Besides being her third endurance run focused on raising funds for children’s education, Run India will also be the longest run Samantha has ever undertaken. Her first run for children’s education was back in 2012 when she became the youngest Australian female to complete the 379km journey across the Simpson Desert. Then in 2014, Samantha completed her second fundraising run through the Freedom Runners project, where she ran 1,968km across South Africa. When asked why she decided to focus on the issue of child education, Samantha said –
“There’s a lot of evidence around when a child can’t get educated, their self-worth is very low. Their ability to be empowered and to be leaders for themselves, for their family members and their community is reduced. So I think if you can remove barriers to why a child can’t get educated, you can have a fundamental impact on what their life might look like and the life of their children and the people around them”.
Samantha first started running in her senior year of high school, as a way of escaping the pressures she had placed on herself. “I was probably quite an overly anxious, very hard working and obsessive student. And my mum always used to tell me to just stop studying, go for a run and when you come back, it’ll all make sense,” she said. However, it was during her years studying a bachelor of performing arts and law at Monash University, when Samantha began to really physically push herself through running.
“I had a group of friends who were training for the marathon and I just thought ‘why not do something really different?’ Something that’s going to push me outside of my comfort zone,” said Samantha.
As a result, Samantha completed her first ever long distance run in the 2008 Melbourne Marathon. Since then, she fell in love with the idea of challenging herself and wanted to test her capabilities both physically and mentally, which lead her to become the first female and the youngest person ever to complete the 4Deserts Grand Slam Challenge in one calendar year. After finishing the 4Deserts challenge, which is considered to be one of the most difficult endurance competitions in the world, Samantha wanted to connect running to something more meaningful.
During her run across India, in addition to visiting World Vision project centres, Samantha will also be visiting various community development projects in areas such as Jaipur. In the city of Jaipur, Samantha will be doing a 30km run with a couple of hundred members of a local running club.
“It’s about connecting not just with the programs but also other people within India, because a lot of change can happen from Indians being aware of what’s happening and feeling like they can make a difference.”
For her third and longest charity run for child education, Samantha aims to raise a minimum of $500,000. The most unique part of Samantha’s Run India project is that Australians back home have the chance to physically get involved in the fundraiser. By signing up to Run India’s 12 Week Challenge, Australians all over the country can virtually run across India with Samantha by logging in the distance they have ran or walked each day. Throughout their virtual journey, participants will be able to get a deeper insight into the challenges faced by children across India as Samantha shares real-time video content from each of the areas she visits.
“Education isn’t just academic education, it’s also life education as well. The issue is so much more complex than I ever previously understood. Different geography, landscape, culture, language, climate, they all play such a significant role in the barriers to why a child won’t go to school and the challenges they face day-to-day. So as I run through India and I experience all those changes, I hopefully can provide some sort of understanding to why development needs to be specific to an area,” said Samantha.
Australians wishing to help out can directly donate by visiting the Run India website or raise funds by signing up to the 12 Week Challenge before August 22nd. You can also follow Samantha’s journey across India through her Official Website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.