Dead to Red Race: From Dadaab to Syria, With Love


It has been four months now since Johanna has left our office in Bonn, Germany, to move to Jordan and support CARE’s communications of the emergency response for Syrian refugees.

When she first told me she was planning to run a marathon through the desert, I couldn’t help but doubt her sanity. When she explained that the team would consist of CARE staff from Jordan, Lebanon and even Syrian volunteers working in CARE’s refugee reception centers, I was impressed.

And when she elaborated that this marathon could be an important opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region, I couldn’t agree more. 

It has been three years since the conflict started, three years of a steadily rising influx of refugees from Syria mainly to Jordan and Lebanon, three years of humanitarian organizations desperately trying to put a human face to the crisis which is mostly discussed in political terms. 

So in comes “Dead2Red”, a 242 kilometer (150 mile) run from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea which brings together hundreds of runners from all over the world.

It’s been two and a half years since I’ve last been to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp in North-Eastern Kenya, home to almost 370,000 people, the majority of them Somalis who have fled conflict, drought and hunger over the last 23 years.

As much as Syria now is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, Dadaab is one of its oldest and most protracted. Dadaab is not a friendly place to live: It is dusty and hot and for most families here, queuing in line for food and depending on services delivered by agencies such as CARE has become a sad routine over the years.

Reshma, who works in CARE’s Nairobi office, is also not someone I would have associated with a marathon before. But when she heard about Dead2Red, she immediately changed her office clothes for sweatpants and started working out. But Reshma didn’t want to travel to Jordan empty-handed. On numerous visits to Dadaab, she had spoken to Somali refugees, heard their stories and listened to their plight. So Reshma had an idea: Why not talk to young refugees in Dadaab and hear what they would have to say to their fellow brothers and sisters in Jordan?

And in comes Mary, the good soul of CARE’s operations in Dadaab who has been working in the refugee camp for over four years now. Mary is not a teacher by education, but on this day, she goes to a school in one of the camps prepared with print-outs and statistics about a country 6,000 kilometers away from Dadaab.

By lucky coincidence, my visit to Dadaab with a film team falls on the same days that Mary had planned to talk to Dadaab students. So here I am, sitting on one of the benches amongst eighth-graders who are hanging on to teacher Mary’s every word.

“How many of you know about Syria?” she asks.

“I’ve never gone, but I heard about Syria. There is a war going on there,” says a young student in the first row. 

I first suspected that these young Somalis wouldn’t be able to relate to a crisis that is far away from them, that they would like for the world to focus more on Dadaab. But I could not have been more wrong.

“What happens when there is fighting in a country?” asks Mary. That is an easy one to answer for the students whose home country has known conflicts for such a long time. Mary discusses the cornerstones of the Syria crisis, always making sure to link it back to Dadaab.

So what would the boys and girls like to share with their fellow refugees from Syria? Mary takes notes on the board: Feel happy about education, help each other, be patient. Small words of comfort from a place where comfort is not a common sight…

Watch their video message: 

After the discussion, the students will write letters to their Syrian counterparts and Reshma is going to hand those over in Jordan in March. She has also promised to return to Dadaab after the marathon to bring back messages from Syrian refugees to their brothers and sisters in Dadaab.

I shouldn’t doubt any of my colleagues’ sanity anymore. Sometimes, the seemingly impossible actually turns out to be a great idea. Although I still can’t quite believe that Johanna is going to run a marathon. But I am more than happy to be proven wrong by her, by Reshma and everyone else from the amazing CARE Dead2Red running team.

by Sabine Wilke, Feb. 12, 2014

Join us!

While you may not be in Jordan in March, there are other ways you can support the team and CARE’s work: