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Photo courtesy of Impact Marathon

Local runners go for personal bests at the Impact Marathon volunteer-and-run series

By Jordan Duff on August 12, 2019


Last year Apartment613 reconnected with former Tour de Blogosphere feature, Joe “Thrive with Joe” Rios. In a Where Are They Now-style interview, Rios updated us on his marathon exploits and his latest participation with a group called Impact Marathon Series. The program pairs running with volunteer activities around the world.

This summer, Rios led a local team of 12 Canadians, as part of a larger group of 40 volunteers, at the Malawi Impact Marathon event. The team worked with the small fishing village of Nkope in one of Impact’s most immersive and intimate combined volunteer-and-race sites.

Under the guidance of the Naturally Africa Foundation, the group built a model farm that would stand as an example of best practices in sustainable agriculture. Currently, many of the local farmers grow only corn to sell. Relying on a single cash crop is risky and so the charities worked to move the local farmers towards more diverse farming and educate them on sustainable agricultural practices.

Volunteers shoulder bamboo fencing for the farm project. Photo courtesy of Impact Marathon.

The model farm was built with low-waste materials, using wooden nails, bamboo fencing and sun-baked mud bricks. A new irrigation system with solar-powered pumping was installed to help mediate the dramatic swings between the rainy season and drought. The goal is to lead change through example.

First-time volunteer Jordan Harris looked back at this project as the most rewarding part of the trip. “In this community, money and resources are finite,” explained Harris. “It felt rewarding knowing that this great project was being managed by very knowledgeable people, was progressing on track, and that our fundraising efforts were contributing directly to its success. I think the most rewarding part of the trip was knowing the village’s new agriculture practice of permaculture was going to lead to better crop yields, more crop diversity, more income and jobs within the community, more diversity in the economy, and more nutritious diets for the residents.”

“It felt rewarding knowing that… our fundraising efforts were contributing directly to its success.”

Photo courtesy of Impact Marathon

After completing the model farm project, the Impact Marathon team, as the name implies, went for a run.

Volunteers can opt for the full 42km, 21km or 10km runs. The elevation, sand, and heat made this a particularly challenging run. The race serves as a microcosm for the event as a whole: hard work followed by the successful satisfaction of completion (or so I assume—I don’t even run for the bus, let alone a marathon).

But the race and the volunteer work are just pieces of the overall experience and the lasting impression it leaves on volunteers and their hosts.

Jen Packham joined Rios’ team last year in Guatemala and was inspired to do it again. “Both years the most rewarding part is the sense of community with the other participants and how we all become invested in others’ lives,” said Packham. “We become family, we work together, cry together and then run together and cry, again, together. You leave feeling you have made a little difference. You are also so hopeful because you see, firsthand, people from around the world, who also want to make a change in the world.”

Photo courtesy of Impact Marathon.

The Impact Marathon Series endeavors to change the world through running. For anyone considering participating, Rios explains why this is such a great vehicle for combining volunteering and tourism, “Participation in the Impact Marathon is a triple hit. You maximize your holidays, do good, and challenge yourself, both mentally and physically. Plus, you make new friends that will become like family.”

“We talk a lot about making change in this world,” said Rios. “But where do you start? This is a great event that can help guide you.”

To get involved or learn more, connect with Joe Rios or connect through the Impact Marathon website.