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Diary of a TCF 10K Runner

On Sunday 8th July a team of 16 runners descended upon Central London, some travelling from as far as Bahrain, to run the British10K in support of TCF-UK. With the shared goal to combat illiteracy these brave and inspirational runners raised in excess of £9,000 – enough to support 11 impoverished children for an entire school cycle (Kindergarten to Matric) . Zainab kizilbash Agha was one of our 10K heroes, below is an account of her run up to the big day.

Run for your life….or someone else’s
I hate London. There is no sun. You can’t start random conversations with strangers yet you have to be pressed next to their intimate body parts on the journey to work. No one smiles at my children. All children aged two and up eat quietly in restaurants with knives and forks while mine don’t (maybe why no one smiles at them). In the summer month’s tourists seep through central London so there is a constant hum of Nikon-clicking in the city. And what is with four bedroom houses with one bathroom? Seriously.

But give London a protest or a cause or two and it comes together like no other city can. And it seemed just like that on 8th July 2012 when thousands of people came together to run a long 10 kilometers in aid of charities for the British 10 k run. There were a crowd of more than twenty three thousand black-clad people heaving with adrenalin. There were all sorts of charities: old people running for charities to protect the young from sexual predators; young people running for the rights of the aged; there was a charity for every disease known to mankind from endometriosis to kidney research; there was someone running for a charity to prevent male suicide to an enthusiastic ripple of runners shouting out slogans to ‘Free Syria’. And I was one of them, amongst two dozen others running to raise money for The Citizens Foundation.

You may or may not know but The Citizens Foundation (TCF to its friends) does important and wonderful things in Pakistan. Since it started more than fifteen years ago TCF has grown from five schools providing education to street children in Karachi to a network of more than 800 schools throughout Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. It educates thousands of girls and boys from amongst 7 million in the country who do not have access to an education. And it educates them well. 98 % of TCF students passed recent matriculation exams in Grade 10. Some of these then go on to TCF secondary schools. Others walk through doors of opportunity that would never have opened to them without an education.

TCF doesn’t only provide an education. It tries to improve the lives of the entire community. One such programme is the Female Adult Literacy Programme, Aagahi, which has taught over 9000 women basic literacy skills such as how to read a newspaper, write a letter or do basic sums. There are others: like mentoring projects or a pilot Water Project using ultra-filtration technology to improve water sanitation in 60 communities across Pakistan.

So when I heard about the opportunity to raise money for TCF from London I grabbed it with both hands….or both feet. It wasn’t an easy decision. I am not an athlete. And until three months ago I was not a runner, more of a stroller really. But the temptation to be able to do some good for Pakistan while not being even in the country was too strong. I am sure others can relate. There are so many like me who have spilt across the borders of our home country into the whole world- living far away from the mess but still intimately connected to it. Others like me go about reading anything we can find online, listening to the news on TV and fretting about its future (in a way only the guilty can who have run away from it all). So this strong pull of responsibility dusted away any nervousness around the actual running. I had three months to train. How hard could it be?

I would find out. My first training session consisted of thirty minutes of walking and thirty seconds of red-in-the-face huffing and puffing really. I couldn’t say it was a run, even a jog because it lacked any sort of continuity. My second, third and fourth sessions were no better. By the third week I could do a sort of a gallop although my four limbs seemed to jerk around disconnected with any concept of grace. And so it continued till it seemed it was the 5th of July. I was cursing myself for ever having thought I could do a 10 k run. By this time some twenty generous souls had sponsored my run with the sponsorship money going directly to TCF. Worse of all, I realized I would have a chip on my shoe so my running statistics would be captured and available online for anyone to see. Could it get more embarrassing?!

And then the day arrived. And so did thousands of people near the start line in central London. The line stretched so long that by the time some of us started the race others were already finishing! The wait in the line to start only aggravated the anxiety. But I had a strategy in mind- like all those sport psychologists say- I was going to imagine the end-goal, the finishing line- but in a different sort of way. TCF are so cost-effective that it takes only 6 pounds to send a child to school for a month. That way I reckoned for every 1 km I ran I was going to be sending four children to school for a month. And that made the race so much easier. 1 k, 2, 3, 4, 5 kilometers came and went. It started raining in the middle which was just as well because it disguised the rivers of sweat pouring down our faces. By 6 km, with my legs getting heavier, I started giving these children names, faces, imagining their hopes and their dreams. And so the run went weaving through central London: Whitehall, looping across the Embankment, past the London Eye. Soon it was 8 km and when I looked at Big Ben on the way to the last bit I was surprised to see that the minutes hadn’t slipped away as fast as I had imagined and I was making much better time than I had ever done on my training hobbles. Then I passed the 9 km and finally, across the finishing line.

…And that’s how 10 k slipped by and I had ended up doing a little bit of fundraising on a rainy Sunday London morning. All in all the run resulted in a few hundred pounds of charity from my feet alone and a few unglamorous pictures of me on the Run website which I hope for all intents and purposes remain undiscovered till I am dead and buried. For now my feet are taking a well-deserved rest…..until next year of course, when they will be up and running for TCF again, together with lots more of us for I hope this inspires others to join in too. For believe me, if I can, you can!

You can still donate to improve the plight of thousands of children denied their right to an education, visit Zainab kizilbash Agha’s page at

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