Photo by Yan Pekar
I’m from Franconia in northern Bavaria, which is not at all like the Bavaria of popular cliché. The region has wooded hills with many hiking trails, and is probably best known for having the highest density of beer breweries in the world.
I studied Sports Economics at university, which was a typical business administration course with a focus on sport and law. It’s the kind of degree that would qualify you to run a football club or manage a company directly related to sport. I could have worked somewhere like Adidas or Puma, which are both based in Nuremberg, but I chose to pursue business without specialising in sport.
In 2005, I moved to Boston to work for Vistaprint. It was an enjoyable two-year experience. The company continued to grow during that time and needed a central location for their European marketing office, which ended up being in Barcelona. I moved here—knowing very little about the city—to help with the expansion. That was 10 years ago.
In 2012, Vistaprint were contacted by Street Child and asked to support a new initiative—a fundraising marathon in Sierra Leone. The initiative is not just about running a marathon in a developing country, but encouraging people to travel to a country like Sierra Leone and spend a week visiting Street Child’s projects, getting to know the staff, seeing the country with their own eyes and meeting its people. The marathon itself is actually more like a street fair than a serious run, with music stations and kids cheering you on as you make your way through the villages. Vistaprint immediately jumped at the opportunity, and that’s how I became involved in the first trip, and almost every one since.
Nearly everyone who commits to running the Sierra Leone marathon returns home a changed person. Many continue to support Street Child and volunteer at smaller events as well as the annual trip. After my first visit, I actually started working for Street Child’s ambassador programme, for people who want to be involved in project work on the ground.
I spent four months in Sierra Leone in 2014, which allowed me to experience everyday life there. It was completely different from anything I had ever known. There was no running water or electricity, for example—trust me, having to haul your own water out of a well and carry it home quickly teaches you how to reduce consumption. In terms of crime, however, you are probably safer in Sierra Leone than in the majority of first world countries, although many have drastically different assumptions.
During that time, I was involved with Street Child Commercial—their innovative in-country fundraising arm. By opening bars and cafeterias around the country, Street Child raises funds for their programmes, which support local families and education. Countrywide, the biggest programme is the ‘Family Business Scheme’. This helps families run and maintain simple businesses, giving them training, a savings plan and perhaps a bit of money or credit, in order to become financially stable. It’s about establishing businesses that meet the community’s needs, so some revolve around cooking, while others might focus on tailoring or carpentry. In rural areas, where there aren’t many businesses, communities come together to work the land. The money raised from these efforts funds the local school. In the end, the goal is to make these communities sustainable without outside assistance.
The sixth edition of the Sierra Leone marathon will be held in May 2017. Besides getting a glimpse of how life is for people there, participants also get to have some fun. The whole group gathers every night at a bar run by Street Child Commercial, with all profits going to Street Child projects. So, the more beer you drink, the more you’re giving to the cause. We ask people to take this very seriously—the night before the marathon is no exception! Another highlight of the trip is visiting the stunning beaches of Sierra Leone. There’s still no development there, it’s spectacular.
Having lived in various cities, I know how important it is to maintain one’s hobbies. To make friends and establish a life from scratch, I have relied on my love of surfing. During university, I did an internship in California with the Surfrider Foundation. From day one, I was part of a community that made me feel at home. No one surfs in Boston, but within a 40-minute drive to the north or south, I found more people who liked surfing who I could relate to. It has been the same in Barcelona—although it’s a bit harder to surf on these glassy, Mediterranean waters, if you follow the forecast and go to the beach when it’s rainy and windy, you can catch a few good waves and maybe even make some connections.