An Olympic Torchbearer from Consett, County Durham, has been hailed as the first hero of London 2012 after handing over his Torch to children in a slum 8,000 kilometres away in Kenya.
Council worker John McBride, 48, who was nominated as a Torchbearer by the Catholic aid agency CAFOD, ran his leg of the relay in bare feet at Barnard Castle, County Durham on Wednesday as a symbol of solidarity with poor youngsters who cannot afford shoes in Nairobi’s Korogocho Slum.
Each year John completes the Great North Run barefoot to raise money for CAFOD. He was inspired to do so after visiting Korogocho with CAFOD and seeing the poverty there at first hand.
He returned to Nairobi on Saturday and – after a special Mass on Sunday where John addressed the 1,000-strong congregation – he led a mini-marathon through the streets of Korogocho with dozens of young people joining in and cheering him on. He then handed the Torch over to the St John’s Sports Society, a gym for young people in the slum, which – thanks to support from CAFOD – is free to use for under-16s.
John also handed over more than 60 pairs of shoes and trainers donated by pupils at St Patrick’s primary school in Consett, who wanted to do their bit to show solidarity with the children of Korogocho.
John explained his decision to donate the torch: “I run barefoot for CAFOD because, when I went to Korogocho to see their work in action, I saw so many children playing in the streets without shoes. Removing my trainers reminds me of the reason I’m running.
“I was thinking of those children when I got to Barnard Castle on Wednesday, and took my trainers off. The Torch Relay organisers told me I couldn’t run barefoot, but I didn’t put my trainers back on, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t remove me from the Relay at the last minute. I wore the official tracksuit they gave me, but my bare feet showed who I was really running for.
“The pride I felt when I did that is a pride that no amount of corporate sponsorship or torch auctions on e-bay can ever buy. But I felt even more proud handing my Torch over to the boys and girls in Korogocho.
“In the St John’s Sports Society, it will act as a symbol of hope. It will stand there as a reminder to all those young people that their dream of competing in the Olympics is not a distant fairy-tale, but something they can reach out and touch with their own hands.
"I was totally blown away today when I did my run through the streets of Korogocho, and saw all the youngsters and adults joining in or cheering us along. It felt like the whole comunity was taking part. You could see how much it meant to them, and I hope my Torch will continue to inspire the young people of Korogocho for years to come. Their joy and enthusiasm is what the Olympics is all about, not any corporate sponsors or celebrity torch auctions."
CAFOD Director, Chris Bain, said: “Many people feel the Olympic Torch procession has been hijacked by the big corporations. And when some Torches were sold on e-bay and the organisers announced they too were auctioning off the torches carried by celebrities, it reinforced the feeling that it was all for profit.
“John’s decision to donate his torch to the St John’s gym is a wonderful antidote to that feeling, and it reinforces all the ideals and values that the Olympic Games are supposed to represent.”
Father John Weebotsa, who runs the St John’s Sports Society, also hailed John’s decision to donate the torch: “There will be many heroes at the London 2012 Games, but for me, John is the first hero of this Olympics. When we read that people in Britain are selling these torches for thousands of pounds, we could not believe that someone would choose instead to give their torch to inspire and encourage the children at our society.
"His visit has been the talk of Korogocho for days, and it was truly wonderful to see all the children running behind him in the street today full of happiness and pride that the Olympics had come alive in their town.
“Life is hard for young people in Korogocho. Almost 200,000 people live here, packed into less than a square mile of space. There is very little here for young people, and even for the ones who make it through secondary school, unemployment is high, and many fall into drugs, crime and violence.
“The Society is one of the few places where young people in Korogocho can escape their everyday lives. The boys and girls can play football, basketball, netball, boxing and karate. They have fun, but they also learn confidence, team work and discipline.
“And in a community which has been divided in the past by ethnic rivalry and violence, my dream is that the Society acts as a haven of peace. We can show that sport can create change in Korogocho, that the slum reality is not the real one, that these young people can have a better life, and we can build it together.
“Most of the young people at the Society dream of representing Kenya at the Olympics. They want to be champions for their country, and show that young people from Korogocho can do something special.
“The Torch John has given to us will stand in pride of place in the Society; it will inspire the dreams of our young people, and make them believe that their dreams can be realised. That is what the Olympics really means.”
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