ORONO — It’s truly remarkable how much we take the little things in life for granted, things such as driving, Internet access and spending time with friends.
As Dee Wilbur of Bangor discovered before she set foot on the University of Maine campus, there are people throughout the world who aren’t as fortunate as many of us.
Wilbur, who enjoyed an outstanding high school track career at Bangor High School, took what she called a “gap” semester between the end of high school and the start of college. She went to the African nation of Uganda and taught English and mathematics at a local orphanage.
Wilbur found out right off the bat things are a lot different in Uganda than in the Queen City.
“There, if you go to the market and to the bank in one day, that’s a busy day,” Wilbur said. “Everything just moves slower there.”
The experience touched Wilbur so much, she decided to give back to the kids she taught by using her background in track and field.
Upon returning to the U.S., Wilbur and a fellow UMaine student, Ben Brennen of Freeport, founded the organization SONG (Sponsorship of New Grace). It’s main fundraiser will be a 5-kilometer road race dubbed, “The Race for Human Race,” set for May 1 on the UMaine campus.
“We’ve had quite a few people sign up,” Wilbur said. “A number of people have signed up on the (Sub 5 track club) website.”
A link to the race application is available at www.sub5.com.
The race will start and finish at the UMaine’s campus recreation center, with the gun going off at 2 p.m. All preregistration materials must be mailed to 123 Forest Avenue, Bangor, by Friday. Checks should be made out to the Sponsorship of New Grace, or SONG.
Prior to Friday, fees are $10 for students (ages 8-18) and $15 for adults while race-day fees are $15 and $20, respectively. Children under age 8 run for free. Race-day registration will take place from noon-1:30 at the rec center.
All proceeds from the race will benefit the orphanage at which Wilbur taught. She’s planning to go back in August to assist with renovations and the delivery of school supplies.
“I knew that I wanted to come back while I was over there,” said Wilbur, “which was really beneficial because I got a lot of information that I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten if hadn’t planned on coming back.”
Shifting from the role of runner to race director has been an interesting one for Wilbur.
“A lot more goes into it than I had thought,” she said. “A bunch of people have asked me if I was running in it.”
The race route will go down past Alfond Arena and onto College Ave., and will follow the campus’ bike trails before eventually finishing at the rec center.
Wilbur felt she wasn’t ready for college immediately after high school, and wound up gaining some valuable real-world experience.
“I just didn’t want to go to college right away, and I wanted to travel instead,” she said. “I had an idea that I wanted to go to Africa, so I picked Uganda and I went.”
Wilbur is hoping to raise money from the race, and with a May 14 talent show, to provide the children with some supplies and everyday essentials. Those include bug nets for their beds, desks, chairs and a chalkboard for the classroom.
“When I was there, I would just write on the walls with chalk. There was nothing else to write on,” Wilbur said, “and the kids sat on the floor and wrote in their workbooks on the ground.”
The orphanage has 700 students ranging from ages 3 to 14, and the classes she taught were to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.
“That money can buy so much,” Wilbur said. “You’re talking about a day of food for 10 kids.”
Mosquitoes and other insects are a huge problem in Uganda, so most children have to have bug nets surrounding their beds to prevent malaria, which can be deadly.
“I actually got malaria while I was there,” Wilbur said. “It was not fun.”
Upon returning from Africa, Wilbur joined UMaine’s track and field team. After deciding competing at the Division I level wasn’t for her, she joined the club team. She is working as an assistant coach at Orono High School this spring.
“We’ve got a great group of kids this year,” said Wilbur, who is mentoring some of the state’s top athletes in Alex Crocker and Shelby Wheeler.
Wilbur enjoyed her host family in Uganda, which featured a single mom, her three children and seven nieces and nephews.
“I’ve talked to them a couple times but it’s hard for them to get to Internet access,” she said. “It’s also expensive to use the Internet there.”
Wilbur hopes road race participants can feel good about helping out the less fortunate Ugandan students.
“I feel like everyone should experience it, just so that they can have that understanding of what is going on in the world,” she said. “Hopefully by getting the word out through fundraisers like this they’ll get a little bit of experience.”
For further information on the race, visit SONG’s Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.