Where We Work

Free to Run operates in some of the most challenging regions in the world, where decades of conflict and instability have resulted in extreme social isolation for women and girls as well as harassment, constrained mobility, and unequal access to education. Since 2014, we have worked to create positive change in the lives of over 1,100 women and girls living in regions of conflict.

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AFGHANISTAN

 
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Afghanistan ranks amongst the lowest in terms of educational opportunities, life expectancy, health, and access to justice.

Despite significant advances that have been made since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan frequently ranks amongst the lowest in terms of educational opportunities, life expectancy, health, and access to justice.

Afghan women and girls face inequitable access to formal education and they lack opportunities to develop the skills needed to lead productive and fulfilling lives. We believe that there will never be a solution to the conflict without the free and full participation of women as equals in society.

Free to Run has spent over four years building up increased support for Afghan women and girls in adventure sports. We began in 2014 with hiking activities for a small group of young women in the Central Highlands Region. Today, we operate in four provinces and support over 550 ethnically diverse women and girls, ages 15-26, who commit to a comprehensive program of athletics, civic engagement, and leadership training.

 
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Afghanistan

Even with the insecurity in the region, Free to Run has experienced a number of ground-breaking achievements in Afghanistan. We supported the first woman to complete a marathon in the country, and the first female Afghan teams to compete in international ultramarathons, We are helping to significantly expand the number of female runners in the Marathon of Afghanistan, the only international marathon in the country. We also created the first ice skating program and the first kayaking training for females in the country. Of equal importance, we have transformed these sporting experiences, and many others, into opportunities to participate and lead in local communities through our Life Skills through Sport (LSS) curriculum.

External monitoring and evaluation indicates that participation in the program has demonstrably enhanced girls’ social well-being, stress-management, leadership skills, and experiences of equality. It has also broadened cultural competencies by facilitating collaborative activities, such as volunteer days and organized sports events, with boys and girls whenever possible.

 

 Iraq

 
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In Iraq Nearly 2 million people remain internally displaced

Despite decades of armed conflict, the World Bank data indicates a gradually improving economic condition in Iraq. However, nearly 2 million people remain internally displaced in the country. Returning families struggle to reintegrate and prosper. Moreover, women and girls, remain among the most vulnerable to violence and other human rights violations. Using relevant learnings and curriculum from our Afghanistan program, Free to Run’s Iraq program is designed to provide sports and life skills training to women and girls, ages 15-26, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We’re operating in Erbil, which is located in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and we’re also working with internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the Ninevah Plains, in Iraq proper.

 
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Iraq

Our 2019 plans include using adventure sports to empower and educate at least 100 internally displaced, refugee and host women and girls from multiple communities. Despite the obstacles that different religions, languages and challenging life situations present… we already have an exceptionally enthusiastic team emerging in Erbil. We see significant potential for Free to Run programs in Iraq and thanks to the support of local partners, we’re rapidly expanding our activities.

External monitoring and evaluation for Iraq reveals participants report a 30% increase in volunteerism, 35% increases in leadership in projects at school and 59% increase in participants taking the lead on projects at home. Benefits of the program go beyond leadership in the community, but extend to their personal lives as well with a 52% increase in personal goal setting, and reductions in feelings of stress or helplessness. The opportunity to meet other young women from provinces outside of their own sees a 47% increase on average.

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Past project - DRC

At the start of 2018, Free to Run began a pilot project in DRC with local NGO AIDPROFEN. Around 80 million people call DRC home. Decades of armed conflict have caused DRC to fall within the bottom third on the Human Development Index. Poverty and political instability remain constant even at times of relative peace, and many women and girls have been victims of conflict-related sexual violence, in addition to the gender-based violence they experience every day.

Despite having a strong culture of sport in the country, women and girls do not have equitable access to outdoor activities. Within weeks of starting our project, word began to spread that a group called Free to Run had sports opportunities for women and girls in Goma. Almost immediately, we had a team of 60 students and mothers meeting three times a week for a 5-10km run.

Thanks to a partnership with 261 Fearless, the global non-profit organization founded by Kathrine Switzer, we were able to expand the DRC project into a full-year program that included the 261 Fearless training program and our own Life Skills through Sports curriculum.

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Past project - Refugees in Hong Kong

In 2015, Free to Run introduced a special hiking program for refugees of war and conflict who were living in very difficult circumstances in Hong Kong. It started as a small program that offered a weekly hike for a handful of female adult refugees. With strong local leadership, the program steadily flourished, and in 2017 became its own standalone charity called R.U.N. Today the R.U.N. team delivers a combination of sports, mental health, fitness and educational programs to over 80 refugee women, men and children in Hong Kong.

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Past project - South Sudan

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, became embroiled in conflict just 2.5 years after it gained independence from Sudan. The escalation of violence across the country caused the displacement of 1.6 million people. In November 2014, Free to Run ran a successful project in South Sudan, through a local implementing partner called, Sports for Hope. The project focused on volleyball skills training for women living in a site for internally displaced persons. Our goal was to facilitate access to group sports activities for women and girls. Social cohesion can provide critical support to those who need it most, strengthening their coping mechanisms and reducing the risk of further vulnerability.