Traveller women from across Co. Wexford will travel to Dublin, for the second year running, to take part in the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin on Sunday 3rd June 2018.

On Thursday, June 7th, Wexford Local Development are hosting a celebratory homecoming for the participants at Enniscorthy Sports Hub. As part of Traveller Pride Week with funding from the Department of Justice & Equality, this local event will involve families and other members of the wider community. Participants will “Travel A Mile” on the track, with plenty of physical activity, fun games, relays, medals & t-shirts for younger people attending.

Spurred on by the success of their first ever Mini Marathon experience the previous year, interest in this year’s event amongst Traveller women is escalating, with extended family members from outside Wexford now making enquiries about the Mini Marathon.

The June Bank Holiday weekend of 2017 saw Wexford Local Development’s Traveller Community Health Workers lead 33 Traveller women across the finish line on their first outing to an event of this kind. Exhausted, a bit foot-sore and sodden by heavy downpours of rain on the day, the over-riding feeling of accomplishment and achievement felt by the women has led to their decision to enter the 2018 event. The numbers entering are growing each week as the closing date approaches.

Word of mouth within the community has been only positive. The experience of being part of such a unique women-only event has left a lasting impression. Traveller women often find it difficult to participate in the typical activities enjoyed by wider society, for a multiplicity of reasons. Role-models are rare; but in Wexford the tide seems to be turning with nine Traveller Community Health Workers employed by Wexford Local Development through funding from the HSE. These women have become valued role-models; and though resources only allow them to work between nine and eleven hours a week, their impact out in local communities is twenty-fold.

The marathon women are all ongoing participants in an initiative aimed at increasing activity levels within the Traveller community, as part of a Chronic Conditions Heart Health Programme, delivered by Wexford Local Development in partnership with the HSE’s Traveller Health Unit. In local areas such as Enniscorthy, New Ross, Bunclody, Taghmon and Clonroche, which have high Traveller populations, women enjoy weekly health education classes and avail of the one-to-one supports offered by the project. Classes are delivered with support from the Social Inclusion & Community Activation Progamme (SICAP) which targets projects within very disadvantaged communities.

Nan Moorehouse, a grandmother from the Drumgoold area of Enniscorthy town, has been a Health Worker for over 5 years. Accompanied by her three sisters and two daughters, the 2017 Women’s Mini Marathon was the first time Nan had ever been presented with a medal. After the event she felt such a sense of pride that she embarked on her own weight loss and exercise programme encouraging her colleagues, neighbours, family and friends to join in. Her preparation and participation was inspirational to her family and was infectious; many joined her. Physical exercise has now become part of Nan’s daily regime. She also skips the scones on offer at Wexford County Council’s Traveller Interagency Group meetings, where she represents her community alongside decision-makers from the Local Authority, the Local Sports Partnership – Sports Active Wexford, the HSE and other public bodies who work together locally to improve Traveller health outcomes. The dial on her weighing scales reflects her success. Nan warmly remembers the feeling she had crossing the line “It made me very emotional to finish the marathon in the name of Crumlin Hospital”. This year Temple Street will be the chosen charity.

Like so many other participants, the Traveller women not only did the Mini Marathon for their own personal fulfilment, but proudly raised over €2,000 for Crumlin Children’s Hospital in the process. Donating to children’s health services is a cause very close to the hearts of these women; due in no small part to the higher rate of chronic health conditions experienced by Traveller children and an infant mortality rate that is still almost four times that of the general population*. (*All Ireland Traveller Health Study, UCD, 2010).

In the lead up to the Mini Marathon these women will be seeing striding out on the local walking tracks and on the sidewalks of the villages and towns across Co. Wexford. The advice from the seasoned participants is “Drink plenty of water, bring your sun-screen and make sure to break in your runners before the big day. You may get wet, but it’s well worth it!”

Notes: The Traveller Community Health Programme is delivered in communities across Co. Wexford by Wexford Local Development’s Traveller Community Health Programme, funded by the Health Service Executive, as part of a Chronic Conditions Heart Health Programme.

The last census in 2016 recorded 1,508 Travellers living in Co. Wexford, which at 1% is the 6th highest Traveller percentage population in the state. Addressing the needs of this relatively high population, Wexford Local Development, in partnership with the HSE’s Social Inclusion Office and South East Traveller Health Unit, provides a range of services at community level, including two Primary Health Care Projects which employ a total of nine part-time Traveller Community Health Workers who are themselves Travellers. These peer workers are uniquely placed to impact upon achieving better health outcomes for the community and each year deliver programmes in the key areas of Diabetes awareness; Cardiovascular health and mental health, engaging with service providers and enabling effective Traveller participation.