Olympic Torch Relay, 18 May to 27 July - Carrying light out of the darkness

Being an Olympic torchbearer is a life-changing opportunity for a teenage girl from rural Uganda

Jo Knowsley

When the Olympic flame begins its 8,000-mile journey around Britain next week, thousands of onlookers will line the route to watch and cheer. But even among the thousands of extraordinary men, women and children chosen to carry the torch, one story is exceptional - that of Catherine Lometo, who will travel from remote Karamoja in northeast Uganda to take part in the relay.

Were it not for the children's charity Unicef and Catherine's athletic prowess, she would never have had the chance to go to secondary school. Indeed, it is unlikely that she would ever have left her village. Instead, she would have helped her sisters fetch water, tend gardens, and cook and care for a husband she would have married at a young age - in exchange for a dowry of up to 100 cows.

But her talent for running, and the role of youth leadership she has fulfilled in her community, made her an obvious candidate to become an Olympic torchbearer.

Now 16, Catherine is preparing to carry the torch for part of its London leg, ready for the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium on 27 July. While she is in London, she will visit two schools as part of the torch relay team.

The opportunity for Catherine to carry the torch came through International Inspiration, the legacy programme of the 2012 Games, Unicef, the British Council and UK Sport.

The torch itself arrives in the UK on 18 May after being flown from Olympia in Greece, where it is lit every four years in a ritual carried out by 11 women dressed as Vestal Virgins. It begins its journey at Land's End in Cornwall, before travelling around the country.

For a young woman from Karamoja, it is an almost unimaginable adventure rather than a dream come true: teenagers such as Catherine, in this part of Africa, know so little of the outside world that, until recently, they had no idea of the roles they could play in it.

Growing up with her mother and father - a preacher at Lokopo Chapel and a chairman of the village - Catherine knew only a simple existence. "There was no television, no electricity and no running water - we just had a radio," says Catherine, who is the first of the family's seven children to go to school.

"I would run 10km in bare feet to get water. I started running with my sisters when I was just four, although I couldn't go the whole distance to the well. They would leave me somewhere along the way and pick me up on the way back. But my father wanted me to go to school. He sees education as very important. He says it is something to stop you falling by the wayside and ending up with no future, or a life in crime.

"I never thought about getting married or having children, even though I am a girl. And he thought it was important that I had an education - not just get married. It made me very happy that he thinks like this. I think I am very lucky."

When Catherine was 11, her local primary school became involved in Unicef's Sport for Life in Karamoja (SLIK) project. In 2010, Catherine entered a national athletics competition and won the 5,000m race, making her the fastest junior athlete in the county. She went on to become a youth ambassador for SLIK and won a scholarship to a new school, a nine- hour drive from her rural home. She has since competed in Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia and is now seen not only as a sporting champion but also as a role model for young women across the country.

"I am happy about this," she says. "I like my new school. This has given me the chance to develop my running talent and take it even further." And she is excited about coming to Britain.

When she comes to London, Catherine would like to tell other schoolchildren about Uganda: its temperate climate, its foods (groundnuts, sorghum, maize and cassava) and how they are prepared. She will carry her traditional dress: beads for the hair, neck and waist, and a sleeveless vest in a bright colour with full, knee-length skirts.

What she is less keen to talk about are the cattle rustlers who have for decades caused bloodshed and fear in her home region. She has never forgotten their visit to her village. "They took all the cows and killed a lot of people," she says quietly.

"But things are better now," she adds. "In my life it is sport that has made the difference - taking me to new places, getting me to a better school and letting me meet many new people.

"Some of the girls in my town want to go to school but cannot because their parents don't believe in educating girls. They send them to gardens to dig. But some of my friends would like to become teachers and accountants. Their dreams are different from their parents' because educating children - boys and girls - was not common for them.

"Sport and school have changed my life. Now I hope my ex-perience makes other girls and their families in my country think about school for girls and encourages more girls to take part in sport and education."

Catherine, however, says she will still follow her lifelong ambition to become a nurse. "People in my community are often ill due to malaria, which is the most common illness," she says. "When people are sick in my community it would be lovely to be able to help them."

Unicef relies entirely on voluntary donations. For more information, visit www.unicef.org.uk

What else?

Key stage 1: A child needs

Help pupils to understand the difference between what they want and what they need with a sorting activity from Unicef UK.

Key stage 2: LEGO legacy

Explore how wealth is distributed and identify the most impoverished countries with Elles89's LEGO lesson.

Key stage 3: A picture of Uganda

Show pupils the often harsh day-to-day reality for people living in Uganda with images from Oxfam's media archive show.

Key stage 4: Lucky escape

While Catherine has the chance to carry the Olympic torch, many Ugandan children face hardship. Investigate the issue of children forced to be soldiers with CAFOD's resource pack.

Key stage 5: What's life like?

Want to find out how much your pupils know about life in developing countries? Concept check with a quiz from ChristianAid.

Check out the Olympics collection on TES Resources for more London 2012- inspired resources.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources034.

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Jo Knowsley

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