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Charity trailblazer

Teba Diatta goes running back to her African roots...

TEBA Diatta never felt she fitted in at school.

"I had this wild afro hair, brown skin, and an unusual name, and all my classmates were white," she said.

"It is hard enough growing up, but having a different background and colour to everyone else made it even more of a challenge."

Teba tried to keep her African roots a secret and even asked people to call her Sarah so she would "appear more normal".

She often suffered racist taunts at school which added to her sense of alienation.

Her parents were strong Christians and had always taken Teba and her brother Sam to church. She remained indifferent to the idea for most of her teenage years.

"I didn't like having religion rammed down my throat and just wanted to be like my mates at school," said Teba, 26.

"Deep down I knew I always believed in God and used to pray whenever I got into hot water."

Her mother Judy met and later married Georges while doing Christian missionary work in Senegal in the late 1970s. They moved to York in 1980 where Teba and Sam were born.

Teba said she began to take God more seriously in her late teens and attended church more regularly.

"I realised that if Jesus' claims were true then it was an absolute insult to God for me to sit on the fence and have one foot here and one foot there.

"Since then Jesus has been my source of strength. He doesn't say that life will always be easy but he does say he will carry us through and that we will live it to the full."

In 2001 Teba said she underwent a "life changing experience" when she spent her gap year with relatives in Senegal. She has 25 cousins living in Oussoye, a small town in the south of the country.

"I used to suppress my African side and didn't know my family in Senegal," she said.

"When I met them I arrogantly thought that I would teach them about life but it was the complete opposite."

Teba said she was amazed at how they related to each other, their sense of community and generosity - despite living in relative poverty.

She was also challenged by the Christians she met who had a big faith but very little in terms of material wealth.

"I saw the little kids handing round their sweets and nuts and only leaving a few for themselves," Teba said.

"It highlighted to me how selfish I was compared to them."

Teba said she experienced a moment of epiphany while out running one afternoon in Oussoye.

"The town had no resources for people wanting to educate themselves and I realised I could maybe use my running skills to raise money to build a library and community centre," she said.

Running For LifeOn her return to the UK, Teba completed a charity run from York Minster to Westminster Abbey which raised £11,000 for the project. She has since launched the Running For Life charity and organises school fundraising days and fun runs. She recently started making and selling African jewellery, cards and ornaments to raise money.

Teba has raised the charity's profile by enlisting the support of celebrities and sports stars, including two Spice Girls and footballer Patrick Viera.

Building work recently started on the new library in Oussoye.

"It's so exciting but I give all the glory to God," Teba said.

"I believe he has given me all the opportunities and has a perfect plan for me.

"I don't know where God is leading me at the moment but I'm excited because anything could happen. Despite of the uncertainty I know that God is with me."