Jacob Dorbor knows all about running.
But now he wants to do it for fun.
The 9-year-old’s family fled violent political turmoil in their native Ivory Coast (renamed Cote d'Ivoire), Africa, when Jacob was just a toddler. They survived separation, refugee camps and a 5,800-mile trip to start a new life in West Des Moines.
Now a student at Waukee’s Brookview Elementary School, Jacob is like any other Iowa kid. He likes to read, and he enjoys football. But both rank well behind his favorite activity. “I love to run,” he says emphatically. He will get his chance at the Hy-Vee Kids Triathlon on June 12.
“This is a great neat opportunity for Jacob. He has never been able to participate in organized sports,” says Ingrid Williams, school nurse at Brookview. “He doesn’t remember much about where he was born. He needs some positive memories.”
Discord that had simmered for years in Cote d'Ivoire erupted in 2002. Rebels attacked several cities and government troops battled for control of the mostly agrarian former French protectorate, which is about the size of New Mexico on the eastern cost of Africa.
When government leaders learned that rebels were hiding among migrant workers in shanty towns, troops bulldozed and burned homes by the thousands. France sent peace-keeping soldiers, which only intensified the conflict. Militias, warlords and freelance fighters from Liberia and Sierra Leone joined the bloody fray. An estimated 3,000 people were dead before a shaky order was restored.
Jacob, his mother, and one of two bothers were forced into a refugee camp. His father and oldest brother disappeared. Jacob’s half of the fractured family eventually landed in the United States, along with an estimated 10,000 other refugees, as part of a massive United Nations resettlement effort.
The civil war left behind “the decay of basic community infrastructure, such as health centers, water services, and schools,” according the International Rescue Committee.
About a quarter of the country’s population now lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. Most children Jacob’s age do not attend school. The economy is heavily dependent on cocoa and coffee, both of which suffer from depressed prices. The life expectancy for men is 41. In other words, Jacob won’t be going back.
His mother, a certified nurse’s aide at a care facility for dementia patients, “does what she can to provide for both Jacob, 9, and Jimmy, 16,” Williams says. “They have been able to re-establish contact with his father and brother, but have not been able to reunite.”
Indeed, Jacob needs some positive memories.
He already envisions breaking the finish line amid the roar of the crowd at Raccoon River Park. He’s not much of a swimmer. And he still needs a bike for the second leg of the race, but Jacob is confident that his legs can carry him to victory on June 12.
He can outrun a lot the older kids at his school, he says. And he’s already turned in a 7 ½-minute mile.
“I like to run,” he says. Check that. “I love to run.”