The fourth edition of the The Hague Peace Run kicked off with some music. Before the run began on Groot Hertoginnelaan, soul singer Steffen Morrison, well known for his performances on The Voice of Holland, gave a mini-gig which culminated in UNICEF’s song of children’s rights. Mayor Jozias van Aartsen joined in the singing. “How wonderful to see so many of you here,’’ the Mayor of The Hague told the more than 2,000 children and coaches who were raring to go behind the starting line. In addition to his chain of office, he was wearing a sparkling UNICEF pin with a blue ribbon on his lapel. “We are doing this for all the children in the world whose lives are not as pleasant as ours. Best of luck!” And so the trend was set. Together we run for peace. That is the slogan of this unique event, which once began as a one-time-only happening on account of Haag Atletiek (The Hague Athletics Club( and the Peace Palace’s 100th anniversary. Since then this running event has become a recurring feature.
On this summery first Saturday of the autumn of 2016, the 7,300 runners taking part in the event presented a picture of peace. Not a cross word was spoken. There was a great sense of solidarity. The participants were a true melting pot of cultures – men wearing headbands, women wearing hijab, children wearing UNICEF caps. The dress code was white. Before the race there was a playful quiz during which children were asked questions about their rights. Hats on if you agree, hats off if you disagree. “Do you have the right to go and see a doctor when you’re sick?” asked the Mayor, Jozias van Aartsen. The children all put their caps on and chanted “yeeeeeeeees”.
This fourth edition of the Peace Run was held to support UNICEF. The participants raised €9,737.50 for the international organisation which helps children all over the world overcome poverty, disease, violence and discrimination. Organiser Mario Kadiks handed Madelon Cabooter, a corporate partnership manager with UNICEF, a cheque for this impressive amount. “This is a wonderful contribution to a special project,” said Madelon. “It is partially due to this money that we, in association with War Child and Save the Children, can ensure that children living in refugee centres can play sports, dance or play games at least once a week.” She was also attending the Peace Run in her capacity as a mother. She was taking part in the 5-km run, along with her son Willem.
By that time, the participants in the Children’s Run (1.5 km) and the Youth Run (2.5 km) had already crossed the finish line. The first winner was Levi de Bruijn from Schoonhoven, aged 10. After completing his race in 5 minutes and 41 seconds, he was treated like an Olympic champion by Omroep West, which was to broadcast a special on the The Hague Peace Run at 5pm on Sunday. “Winning is great, but it’s not the reason why I’m running here,” Levi explained. “It’s all about peace.” Levi loves sport. “Usain Bolt is my role model,” he said before receiving his award from the Mayor. Will he ever be as good as the great Jamaican sprinter? Time will tell. “If not, I’d like to make YouTube vlogs when I grow up, or do something with animals.” Levi proudly stepped off the podium, carrying a trophy and a white rose. He was as happy as the first girl to cross the finish line – Stella van der Sluis, aged 10, who completed the shortest distance in 6 minutes and 18 seconds. “So much fun,” said the youthful The Hague local, who was beaming. “The Peace Run is so much fun. And it’s such a beautiful route.”
Seppe Hendriks completed the run on the shoulders of his father, Paul. “Seppe is almost three years old. We thought the kick-off was very motivating, with all that great music. Towards the end I decided to put him on my shoulders. It was a great thing to be part of. We’re having a great time.” Three-year-old Adrian Gallmetzer and his father Reinhold were the last persons to cross the finish line in the Children’s Run. The mascot, Paxi, a huge peace dove, gave Adrian an exuberant high five. Father and son were further proof of the international character of the Peace Run. “We are Italians,” said Reinhold. “I’m working here as a lawyer with the International Court of Justice. It’s great to be able to walk here for peace with my little boy in this city of peace and law.”
In fact, many runners showed a remarkable level of awareness. They were not just taking part in any race. For instance, take Ewan Anderson, aged 12. He was the fastest boy in the 2.5-kilometre race, completing the run in 8.48 minutes, which was 56 seconds faster than the fastest girl, Zoë van Dam. “It’s always nice to win a race, but it’s much more beautiful to run for peace. Sport is one of the things which can unite people,” Ewan declared in a very grown-up manner. He answered questions in English. “My mother is French, my dad Scottish,” he explained. He was wearing a yellow shirt which bore the legend “10” and showed Lionel Messi. So, is the Argentinian football star his idol? Ewan smiled. “No, that would be Mo Farrah, the British runner and Olympic champion.’’
Eleven-year-old Wouter Zeppenwoolde, who won the Children’s race last year, came third in this year’s Youth run. “That’s good, too,” he judged, clearly satisfied. His father took a picture of him and the Mayor, Van Aartsen. “Isn’t this wonderful?” said his father, Wilbert. “We came all the way to The Hague from Rijssen in Overijssel province to attend the Peace Run. It’s an event we don’t want to miss. Circumstances allowing, we’ll be back next year.”
Get young people in your corner and you will hold the future. That is definitely the case for the Peace Run, a sporty component of The Hague’s Just Peace Festival. “The number of young people signing up for the run is growing, which is great,” said the organiser, Mario Kadiks. “The more, the merrier.” But grown-ups proved highly involved, as well. They coached their children, who were running the shorter distances, and took part in the 5- and 10-kilometre races themselves. Rabin Baldewsingh, the councillor who holds The Hague’s sport portfolio, gave the starting sign for the longest distance. Baldewsingh, who is of Surinamese Hindu extraction himself, told the participants before the race, “Your peace is my peace. Your freedom is my freedom. Best of luck!” And off they went. Many were wearing T-shirts which said, “PEACE LOVE RUNNING 070”. Some were wearing sunglasses, others weren’t. Councillor Ingrid van Engelshoven was among the runners, as was 47-year-old Patrick Kwist, a first-time winner of the 10-kilometre race (31.28). “Someone from Rotterdam winning in The Hague – great, isn’t it?” he said with a smile. Local Hendrike Oosterhof, aged 31, recorded the fastest time (39.52) in the women’s race. The five-kilometre races were won by 18-year-old Tom de Gelder (16.30) and 31-year-old Irene Aldersma (20.05). But when it came down to it, all participants, young and old alike, felt like winners. In the words of the American freelance writer Monique White, 46: “I live in The Hague with my husband and two daughters. I’ve taken part in races all over the world, including marathons, but this is my first Peace Run. It’s great. I love this atmosphere.”
One of the participants was wearing a T-shirt which bore the legend, “Peace begins with a smile”. If peace truly does begin with a smile, the Peace Run can definitely be considered a success. Many participants completed their missions with a huge grin on their faces, making peace signs with their fingers.
The last runner to cross the finish line was treated to white-and-blue confetti. It was Daniël Schiffelers, aged 42. “I’m glad I made it, because I was suffering from an old injury,” he confessed. Of course, he, too, had been running for peace. “In a way, I’m trying to bring about peace in my work, too. I’m a project manager charged with constructing Dutch embassies. We’re currently constructing an embassy in Mali, a country which could do with a little peace.”
The fourth edition of the Peace Run was a resounding success, not least because of the level of engagement shown by the 300 volunteers. Next year – to be exact, on Saturday, 23 September – the event will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?