Virtual and inclusive: UNICEF Croatia’s 2020 “Milky Way Run” draws more than 8,500 participants

Annual race adjusts to COVID-19 realities by using mobile app

Milky Way
UNICEF Croatia
15 September 2020

The Milky Way Run is a humanitarian race organised by UNICEF Croatia in partnership with line ministries and other partners, focusing on raising awareness of the need to respect and enhance child rights. Between 2017 and 2019, the Milky Way Run became an important platform for raising awareness and mobilisation of resources needed for key investments in children’s wellbeing through UNICEF’s programmes in Croatia. In the first three years, thanks to the Milky Way Run, a human milk bank was opened, financial support was provided for foster families with the youngest children, and all maternity wards in Croatia were provided with equipment.

The 2020 cause is aimed at improving the living conditions of children with disabilities, promoting social inclusion and equal rights for every child in Croatia, with further development of early intervention services, sensory integration and education. This year, due to the circumstances related to COVID-19 pandemic the participants are brought together through a mobile app, which makes the Milky Way Run a national event. For two weeks, from September 5th to 20th, individuals, families and small groups can support children with disabilities by running, walking or cycling.

Mlijecna Staza
UNICEF Croatia

Because of its national character the Milky Way Run 2020 takes place on thousands of paths all over Croatia, with one common goal – to provide opportunities for children with disabilities. Each person can participate wherever, whenever and however they can – by running, walking, moving in a wheelchair, or riding a bike, with family or friends, in a park or in their neighbourhood, while they are exercising, hiking or taking a walk. During the two weeks, all participants are connected through the gathered kilometres, through the stories over the thousands of paths, messages of support and photos shared in the app, social media and all the other means of communication. The greatest strength of the Milky Way Run is that everyone can be a star and make thousands of lives better.

This year, each medal for the stars of the Milky Way Run will be special and unique as it will be handmade by the pupils of the Tomislav Špoljar Education Centre. Tomislav Špoljar Education Centre is an institution that offers primary education to children with mild intellectual disability and developmental disabilities, children with moderate and severe intellectual disability and developmental disabilities, and those with autism and developmental disabilities.

Children with disabilities
UNICEF Croatia

In less than 10 days of the race, participants collected more than 220,000 “kilometres of opportunities” for children with disabilities.

The race started on Saturday, September 5th and by now more than 8500 participants have registered, including 912 children, more than 70 children and young people with disabilities and 16 associations that work with children with disabilities, which additionally confirms the inclusive character of this year’s race.

The race is held under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Croatia Zoran Milanovic, the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the City of Zagreb, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science and Education, the Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family and Social Policy and the Croatian Paralympic Committee. Numerous Croatian athletes like famous tennis players Marin Čilić, Borna Ćorić and Ana Konjuh, handball national team member Luka Stepančić, Paralympians and many others recognized the importance of this sporting and humanitarian event and invited citizens to join in. Motivated by providing support to children with disabilities, many Croatian actors, musicians, presenters and other public figures also joined the race. In addition, the project was recognized by 50 companies whose employees will also be among the participants in the race.

This year's race is national, virtual and inclusive, which allows everyone to collect kilometers of opportunities through the application, and UNICEF will invest the funds raised in sensory rooms and education of experts who conduct sensory integration therapies with children with disabilities.