Lessons from Africa: running and dying well

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We are just back from amazing two weeks in East Africa. Our son Andrew was taking on a series of epic challenges, which included running up Mt Kilimanjaro in a day (he took 7hrs 16 minutes from base camp), doing the same with Mt Kenya, and running over 50km every day for 18 days.

Mary and I helped with support, and like Andrew did a bit of running, and went up Mt Longonot (2786 metres) to raise money and awareness for the African Palliative Care Assn.  Donations are still extremely welcome at our Just Giving page.

In addition to seeing some incredible sights (and getting a puncture next to a pride of lions), East Africa offered an opportunity to learn and share knowledge.

Andrew works as a Sports Medicine doctor and spent time learning from Olympic Champions and World Champions to unpick why Kenyans are so good at distance running- the village of Iten won more medals at the last Athletics World Championships than China and the UK combined.  The universal opinion was it was not due to genetics, but due to a range of factors (Kenyan kids are fitter and fewer are overweight) and their top athletes’ sheer determination, and dedication.

Scott and Liz Grant, another member at St Catherine’s Argyle often visit Africa to help train doctors and nurses in palliative or end-of-life care,  and funds from Andrew’s run will help ensure there is morphine to be prescribed by these now trained staff.  The Kenya Palliative Care Association were exceptionally welcoming, and we visited two hospitals: Chogoria where we used to work as missionary doctors, and Eldoret  near Iten, the village of champion runners.

For palliative care to succeed in Africa much effort will be needed due to the lack of funds for equipment and medicines. But just as in running Kenyans have many resources to call on: neighbours and local communities supporting each-other, a willingness to face up to the inevitability of death and dying, and spiritual support from many church groups.

We in “developed countries” can learn much from Africa about how neighbours and local communities and churches can support and help people at the end of life die with dignity among their family.  We must help individuals and local communities cheer people on at the finishing line of their race. And at St Catherine’s Argyle we have the understanding and resources to really support our members towards the end of life.  And we can also reach out to our neighbours and friends to help them die at peace, we pray with God. Can we help Scotland  turn from a death denying culture  to one that considers death as a challenge to be embraced?

Scott & Mary Murray
CMF Members



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