There are over one million Syrian refugee children in the region. Many are orphaned and have a slim chance of getting an education.
It’s a reality that has moved Olga Zolotova, a Dubai resident and ultra-athlete, to put her limits to the test.
The 25-year-old Russian national said: “I want to help Syrian children get educated and have better opportunities. In May, I plan to run seven ultra-marathons across seven emirates in a span of seven days. An ultra-marathon is any run that covers over 50km, so my total run will cover over 350km.”
Zolotova is choosing to partner with Jusoor, a US-based nonprofit organisation that has been working in Lebanon since 2013.
More than half of Syrian refugee children — about 520,000 — are registered in Lebanon. According to Zolotova, Jusoor helps in this crucial transitional phase, working to integrate children into the educational system by filling gaps in their knowledge and providing them with a safe place to learn.
There are currently 1,700 students enrolled in Jusoor’s refugee education program, with 15 students going on to receive scholarships in five Lebanese universities.
Zolotova said: “It costs approximately $700 (Dh2,571) per year to educate one child and Jusoor has two schools in Bekaa Valley that are running entirely on donations from people. Some of these children have lost their families, others have missed years of schooling due to the difficult situation in their country. For most of them, a refugee school is the only chance to get an education.”
She will travel to Lebanon in April to visit the schools and meet the children she hopes to help.
Zolotova said: “I am aiming to collect at least Dh25,000, which will provide a full year of education for 10 Syrian children.”
Zolotova is no novice when it comes to sport challenges. In October 2015, she cycled 400km across the UAE in 24 hours, to raise funds for children’s education in developing countries. Collaborating with Dubai Cares, she said they were able to collect more than Dh10,000, for African schools.
Two months later, Zolotova ran 200km in 24 hours starting from Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, and dedicated it to the Children Cancer Hospital in Pakistan. She worked with Marwa Fayed Toys Run, a nonprofit charity organisation, and collected over 100kg of toys to give to children at the hospital, as gifts for the New Year.
May’s ultra-marathon series might be the most challenging yet. Zolotova has been training for it since January.
She said: “This is actually going to be tougher than my 200km run. I completed that in one day, so although I felt soreness and some pain the next day, I was able to rest. But this time, I will be running over 50km every day for a week, so there is barely any recovery time.”
In order to prepare, Zolotova is running four times a week, and schedules in some time at the gym on the other days. She said: “My aim is to run slowly, so that there is less chance of injury. I give myself a maximum of six hours every day, to complete a long run with short intervals in between.”
Ultimately, she hopes all her training and effort will pay off, through education for Syrian children who have no one to count on.
Zolotova said: “I believe it is the right thing to do. There are plenty of ways to help others. I believe sport and healthy way of life can benefit not only on a personal level, but also can contribute to society. If you can do something outstanding that would attract the attention of other people, why not dedicate it to matters that really deserve attention?”
If you would like to donate to her cause, email Zolotova at firstname.lastname@example.org.