Taylor and Blake Bird started 2013 off by running one mile at Soddy Daisy’s Veterans Park. At age seven and four, respectively, they set out to run 100 miles to raise money for Mercy Project, a Texas-based non-profit that is working to eradicate child slavery in Ghana, West Africa.
Throughout 2013, Taylor and Blake have run one mile at a time, documenting their progress on a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/100MilesforMercyProject. So far, they have run over 75 miles. They’ve run in four states (Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, and North Carolina), and they are planning to add Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas to that list before they finish, however most of their miles have been in the Chattanooga area. They’ve run on paved park paths, trails, and grassy fields. Once their little sister, Ellie, learned how to walk, she occasionally joined in. The kids will run their 100th mile at the “BCS Kids Marathon” on Dec. 7, while their parents tackle 26.2 miles the following day.
Their mom, Courtney Bird, raised money for Mercy Project in conjunction with a half marathon that she ran in late 2012. That inspired the kids to want to get involved as well. Although it isn’t safe for children to run marathons, Mrs. Bird came up with the idea for them to run 26 miles, one at a time, and Taylor decided that wasn’t enough, and committed them to running 100 miles.
Mrs. Bird and her husband, Bill, a nuclear engineer at TVA, registered to run the BCS Marathon in College Station, Tx., as part of Team Mercy Project, a group of runners who raise money for the charity. Mr. Bird told the kids that if they raised $1,000, he would run with Mrs. Bird in his first - and according to him, only - marathon. He began training earlier this year. Mrs. Bird has already run two marathons this year, in Little Rock, Ar. and Winchester, Tn.
The kids would love for Chattanooga to make a big showing in the fundraising leaderboard, but they need the help of the local community. Tax-deductible donations can be made at www.grouprev.com/100miles. Several people have made per-mile pledges earlier in the year, that they will make good on just before race day. Although the fundraising page doesn’t reflect the pledge amounts, the kids have already raised over $600. All donations are tax-deductible and go directly to Mercy Project.
An estimated 7,000 Ghanaian children have been sold into slavery, most of them in the fishing industry. While there are several non-profits working to eradicate child trafficking in Ghana, Mercy Project is the sole group working to end the problem through the use of sustainable economic development projects that are led by the local community. The money raised with Team Mercy Project will help build new farm fishing opportunities, enabling the communities in that region to be economically viable without slavery. This will lead to the voluntary release of slave children from these communities, where they will then be reunited with their families.
In September of 2012, Mercy Project rescued their first group of 24 enslaved children. After their rescue, the children were taken to a Ghanaian-run rehabilitation center where they received medical care, psychological counseling, and began their formal education. For many of the children, it was the first time they have ever sat in a classroom or slept on a bed. From there, a Ghanaian social worker located families and prepared them for the child’s reintegration. Mercy Project also funds the first two years of school fees for the children. For more information about child slavery in Ghana and the work of Mercy Project, visit www.mercyproject.net.