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Why I Run
By Tracey Edou

My name is Tracey Edou. I am a middle school math teacher in the Renton School District (Seattle, WA). I have a bachelor's degree in math and a master's degree in secondary education. Most importantly, I am committed to helping African families who have been impacted by AIDS.

This commitment stems from my own experiences in Africa. At the age of 22, I went to Gabon, Central Africa in the Peace Corps after I graduated from college in 1993. I intended to be a teacher there for two years, but, rather, I ended up teaching and being a part of an African family for 10 years. In the year 2000, one of my best friends from Gabon, a lady named Solange, was diagnosed as HIV positive. At the time, AIDS medicine in Africa was incredibly expensive so we were unable to pay for it. In the beginning of 2001, she fell very, very ill and had to be hospitalized.

During that time, I went to the take care of her twice a day. It was very traumatizing to see the illnesses that ravaged her body, and to see that health workers and family members were so afraid of contracting AIDS that they would not touch her. It became my job to take care of her. Although I had never been involved in athletics, the only way I could handle the stress was by running. At first, I could barely run one mile: my hip hurt and it was so hot there in Africa! Still, running kept me sane during that difficult time.

After a long battle, Solange finally succumbed in May of 2001, two weeks after her 40th birthday. She left one daughter, a teenage girl named Murielle. Murielle's father had also passed away: she had been orphaned in a three-month time period. Despite this tragedy, Murielle worked very hard in school and kept her grades up. In 2004, she graduated from high school, and in October, started college in Tunisia, North Africa.

Meanwhile, I returned to America in 2003. Concerned about how Murielle would be able to pay for her college education, I continued my running to raise money for her. Although it was difficult for me to run long distances, I kept running further and further so as to remember Solange, and all the other people who have died and are dying of AIDS in Africa. In July 2004, I ran a half marathon in Bellevue, and in November, I ran my first marathon in Seattle. During these events, I raised a total of $2000 towards Murielle's college education.

With Murielle on track in college and doing well, I extended my fund- raising efforts to include another lady named Amelie. Amelie is a Gabonese lady who is a single mother of four children and is living with AIDS. Amelie discovered that she was HIV positive when Solange was dying. Luckily for her, one month after Solange's death, AIDS medicine in Africa decreased in price quite significantly. Those reduced prices have made it possible for Amelie to pay for the medicine with her small monthly salary. The problem is that those medicines are not the same quality as what we have in the United States (bi-therapy instead of tri-therapy). Amelie, therefore, still fights illnesses that her weakened immune system allows into her body. She is barely able to take care of herself and struggles to raise her children. They all live in a one bedroom wooden shack without indoor plumbing, and they often have trouble finding enough money to eat with or to pay for school fees.

On April 10th, I completed a full marathon on Whidbey Island, raising money for both Murielle and Amelie. So far, I have been doing this on a personal level. People sponsor me, they send me the money, and then I send it directly to Murielle or Amelie by Western Union. I am currently trying to organize a non-profit foundation so that donations can be tax deductible. Once I have enough money to help both Murielle and Amelie, I intend to extend the fund-raising efforts to include other families impacted by AIDS in other African countries. During my lengthy time there, I had the opportunity to meet many reliable people in various countries who could help dispense the money honestly. It is such a treasure to know that the money goes straight to the person who needs it.

I never thought that I would be able to run five miles, and a marathon was unimaginable. Yet, every footstep became so full of meaning when I realized that neither Solange (Murielle's mother) nor Amelie could take those same footsteps. It was worth it to push harder and to continue to try when I fully grasped that, when I send the money for Murielle's college education or for Amelie's children to go to school, my sponsors and I are doing something that would not be done otherwise. If we don't do this, no one will. Our efforts have a direct and powerful impact upon their lives.

What a blessing it is to run!

Thanks Tracey for sharing your article.

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