Jon Taylor is curator of the cuneiform collections at the British Museum, Board member of the IAA, and editor-in-chief of Mar Shiprim. But this spring, he is also something else: charity fundraiser! Over nine months, Jon is running 2166 miles, the distance between his home in Rugby, England and Aleppo, Syria. With this challenge, Jon is raising funds for the charity War Child, and its work with children affected by the conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Why did you choose the charity War Child?
The big charities address the immediate crisis. But life has to be about more than just survival. War Child is a small charity that makes its contribution by doing something special. It helps children build a brighter future, through counselling, education and building on their experience to develop skills and confidence. To do so it trains local staff, who can then help further groups of children. It’s a sustainable long-term approach, enabling local solutions to the specific sets of problems facing communities. When confronted with crises on this scale, it’s easy to feel powerless. War Child shows that even small contributions can make a big difference. In the same way, while the contribution that I and others like me can make is dwarfed by the millions of dollars promised in international aid, it is enough to changes lives.
What does this challenge mean for you personally?
This is not a perfect world. Wherever you live, there are people in real need of help for all sorts of reasons. Across the globe there is a sad litany of humanitarian emergencies, some man-made, others a result of natural disaster. What turned me from donor to fundraiser for this cause was a combination of factors. I have very fond memories of the time I’ve spent in the region over the years, in Aleppo in particular. The difference between how things were then and how they are now, the sheer scale of the devastation, is shocking. I’m the father of two young boys. I will never be able to erase from my memory the haunting images of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless little body washed up on a beach, or the look on Omran Daqneesh’s face, as — dragged from the rubble of his home — he sat in an ambulance, wiping his forehead, and stared uncomprehendingly first at his bloody hand then at the world in front of him. When I saw them I couldn’t help but see my own boys. The situation in Syria and Iraq will take a lot of solving, but that doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, start already, and do something that will make a big difference to some of those caught up in this nightmare.
Are you actually running from Rugby to Aleppo??
No, unfortunately that’s impossible for me at the moment, with a young family and a job; and of course the security situation doesn’t allow it. I would love to run that route one day, though; it would be such an interesting journey to make. I guess it’s more of a retirement project. In the meantime, I have to content myself with running around the midlands region of the UK and — for a couple of months — Iraq.
How can engaged scholars help with your project?
Apart from strapping on your running shoes and joining me? Well, everyone is of course very welcome to support me through JustGiving.com. All support is much appreciated. Sharing the link on social media would be a big help too. Or why not support War Child directly, perhaps through their Mosul Appeal?
There are only 18 days to go until your set goal – will you make the 2166 miles in time?
I’m so close to the end now that I’m confident I will make it, although these last few hundred miles are the hardest: in recent weeks I’ve run the London marathon and a 6 hour race (39 miles), and in a few days’ time I’ll be running a very hilly 35 mile race. Earlier in this challenge there were certainly times when the situation was looking really bleak. In month 2 I left for Iraq (an opportunity that arose after I had committed to the challenge). Between making security arrangements and dealing with bouts of minor sickness, I fell behind by 140 miles. My schedule already demanded 2 marathons’ worth of running per week. Now I had to claw back more than 5 additional marathons’ worth of running on top of that. I built up to regular 60+ and 70+ mile weeks. It was a risk; even a minor injury could have put me so far behind that I would have no chance to complete the challenge. But I’ve been fortunate so far that the worst I’ve had is some minor scrapes and knocks and some bruised toes.