Supporter stories: Anne-Marie and the Great Ethiopian Run

My father was a rheumatologist and a long-time supporter of eye charities. He used to donate to Orbis every year and got me involved in raising money and awareness for them. My father passed away in 2011 so my husband and I decided that we needed to take up the baton.

I ran the London Marathon for Orbis and raised £5,000, much of it from some massive cake sales at work. After the marathon I thought ‘what’s next’? I was looking at the marathon when Orbis got in touch to see if I fancied doing the Great Ethiopian Run. I said yes; next thing you know, I’m hopping on a plane to Ethiopia!

In Addis Ababa, we visited one of Ethiopia’s main eye hospitals, where we learnt about the hospital itself and about the programmes set up across the country to improve eye care in rural communities. It was a humbling experience. You can’t fault the quality and commitment of the staff; the main ward had two dozen beds with plastic mattresses and the Intensive Care Unit was a two-bed room at the end of the ward.

We saw people coming in with treatable conditions that had turned into something major, because they were unable to get appropriate treatment early enough. These patients were fortunate as they were able to receive treatment; there are thousands more who aren’t so lucky. It makes you stop and think. I’m glad I visited – it really showed the importance of what Orbis is trying to do.

Runners setting off on the Great Ethiopian Run

The race itself is 10,000 metres at 10,000 feet. I hadn’t done any specific training – you’d really need to run somewhere hot and high but I was in London in November, so that wasn’t going to happen! I just took my overall running fitness with me and off I went.

Enjoy the experience; don’t go for a personal best as there are thousands of runners, combined with high heat and high altitude! You need a certain resilience and level of fitness, but if you’ve already run a half marathon or 10k at home, you should be fine. Just keep your hydration and body temperature under control and have fun.

You’re running amongst 36,000 people – it’s a mass of Ethiopians in green and red T-shirts! It was fantastic – the atmosphere is amazing and everyone cheers you on through the race. They’re really friendly despite the fact they have no idea who you are or where you’re from.

It was a hot and surprisingly hilly run; an amazing experience, a great adventure, a chance to raise more money for Orbis and an opportunity to see first-hand the hard work being done to improve eye health across the world. To top it off, we got to meet Ethiopian running icon Haile Gebreselassie at a pasta party!

I love everything about Orbis; the schemes set up to improve eye care in local communities, the training of local doctors and nurses so they can manage and develop programmes in their countries and, of course, the Flying Eye Hospital, which we were lucky enough to visit when it came to Stansted. It’s a plane, a hospital, a surgical facility and a training centre all rolled into one. I feel honoured to be able to support such a life-changing charity.

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