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School vice-principal Heather in charity challenge to help aid work in poverty-stricken countries

The Donaghcloney mum-of-two is one of a group who have been running '5km a day in May' to support the vital relief work of Tearfund

A County Armagh school vice-principal will join other like-minded people from around the country by making their work-outs matter for those who need it most!

Running in support of global development charity, Tearfund, Heather McDowell, who is the Pastoral Vice-Principal of Clounagh Junior High School, is hoping to make a real difference.

Mum-of-two Heather, who is from Donaghcloney, said: “Previous injury has meant that rather than run, I have been walking the 5km a day. My son has been doing his best to push me to run…maybe one day I will get there!”

Heather has enjoyed the rhythm of the challenge.

She added: “I like the 5km to be a very deliberate point in my day, setting time aside specially for it. I naively thought it would be an easy thing to do, but it is hard work fitting it into the daily routine of working full-time and organising the kids.”

The group of 33 members is together covering the distance between Belfast and the very tip of North Africa – 3,290 kms – over the month of May.

Running mainly in Northern Ireland with a few international participants in Malaysia, Lincolnshire and Geneva, they hope to raise £20,000 for Tearfund – which could help up to 1,200 families living in poverty with health and hygiene training and food support as they await safe access to a Covid-vaccine.

Millions of people in Northern Ireland are now partially or fully vaccinated. But for billions of people around the world, a vaccine is still a long way off. It is estimated that amongst people living in poverty, only one in 10 will access a safe vaccine this year; with most others having to wait until next year or even 2023 before they are able to.

Glen Mitchell, Tearfund’s NI Director, said: “We talk about the pandemic being a storm we are all experiencing, but in very different boats. This inequality has never been more evident than when it comes to the access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

Heather, meanwhile, added: “I was so glad to get my vaccine at the end of April and it made me determined to raise awareness of the need for vaccinations to be a global priority.

“Each day that I was in school during lockdown, I was aware of the health vulnerabilities of colleagues and the family members of our pupils, so I felt a huge sense of relief at the vaccine rollout. It seems unfair that the privilege of free vaccinations and good medical care for those who become ill with Covid-19 depends on what part of the world you live in. That’s what made me want to take part in this challenge.”

And Glen added: “Those of us who live in countries with enough resources to purchase ample doses of the vaccine are often also those who can afford to social distance and freely access things like clean water or soap. For many people living in poverty, going to work in crowded spaces is their only chance at putting food on the table for their families.

“Still others, in refugee camps for example, have no way of isolating. Many others have to walk for miles in order to access clean water, which they then have to ration through the day.”

For over 50 years, Tearfund has walked alongside communities around the world as they respond to disasters, including supporting people living with HIV and those affected by recent Ebola outbreaks. Tearfund helps communities to recover and create a more resilient ‘new normal’.

And now, Tearfund is working through local partners in more than 50 countries where the most vulnerable people need help with emergency food and hygiene supplies before, during and after Covid-19 vaccines become available. Tearfund is playing a vital role by preventing the spread of the virus through improved hygiene and sanitation and supporting our locally based partners and churches to make a meaningful, sustained response.

While people are waiting for access to the vaccination, it is important to act to mitigate the spread of the virus and its impacts.

The aid and development organisation is also working to spread accurate information about Covid-19 vaccines.

Said Glen: “Alongside our work tackling poverty, we are also helping church leaders and organisations to use their influence to build a good understanding of the Covid-19 vaccines and help shape and support vaccination programmes that are good for society, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised.

Heather added: “As we emerge from lockdown, and we begin to meet with our families and friends again, I am reminded that for many in countries such as India, people are still being faced with the isolation that Covid brings.

“They are faced with the challenge of insufficient medical supplies, and lack of access to vaccinations. Projects like Tearfund’s ‘5km a Day in May’ can make a difference and bring hope to those who face these very challenging circumstances. This is what has always drawn me to Tearfund; the fact that we can be part of the solution; that we can help bring about change and share the hope that we have with others.”

Now Heather will be handing the baton to 30 of her students from Clounagh Junior High School who have agreed to complete a 5km run in the last week of the challenge.

“I’ve been so encouraged by the support from family, friends, and students,” she said.

To make a donation in support of Tearfund’s work responding to coronavirus around the world and support Heather McDowell’s running challenge, visit her Justgiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/HMcDowell.

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