My name is Dame Dibaba and I am a refugee from the Oromia region of Ethiopia. I have run the fastest time at Beckenham Place parkrun in London (15:58), but at parkrun I am just running for fun. It’s not like the running I did to escape from jail in my home country and travel alone to the UK.
I belong to the Oromo people. We are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, with about 27 million people, and we speak our own language which is known as Oromifa. Despite being such a large population, life is not easy for us and many people are involved in protests against the government. Some are put in jail and sometimes people are killed.
In 2014 I was charged with disseminating Oromo liberation propaganda and imprisoned for six weeks. I was allowed home, but then I was intimidated, arrested and imprisoned again. During this time I was beaten up, I lost my teeth and sustained wounds to my arm. One day, while working under armed guard in the maize fields surrounding the prison, I made a run for it.
Once I had escaped, I worked my way across Africa to Libya and was smuggled across the Mediterranean to Italy. The sea crossing took 19 hours and the conditions were terrible. There was no fresh air in the bottom of the boat, it smelled really bad and everyone was being sick, but I didn’t have any other choice. Eventually I made it all the way to the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais and hid under a lorry to get to the UK. Thanks to a very kind family I now live in London while the Home Office decides my future.
I am very lucky to have generous people to live with and help me, but because I cannot work I discovered that I was not getting tired and so I would not sleep, and this was a problem for me. So the family I live with asked me if if would like to run to help me sleep. I said yes, so they signed me up for parkrun, printed my barcode and I went to Beckenham Place parkrun.
The first time I went there I got lost! I ran from home and had plenty of time, but when I arrived at where I thought the course was there was nobody there. Eventually I spoke to some people who had parked their car if they knew where parkrun is and they told me. I now run at Beckenham Place parkrun and also at Hilly Fields parkrun.
I enjoy parkrun because I love running with other people, and I am always happy when I run. It’s a lot of people (small, big, young, old) and everyone is running for fun and to be healthy. I have also discovered I am a fast runner, and the people at parkrun introduced me to Kent AC. It is great to be part of this running club – parkrun and training and racing gives me routine to my life. For me, it seems, running will always be my escape.
I used to be very alone, but now I have a lot of friends through parkrun and also at my running club. I now have a big family. My situation is bad, but at least I have my friends.
As told to Glen Turner at parkrun and Ronnie Haydon from The Guardian. Ronnie’s full article can be found here.
Headline photo thanks to Richard Hall
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