Are charity treks just a way to go on holiday at others’ expense?
It seems a recent submission to our letters page has ruffled a few feathers. About a month ago, a reader wrote in questioning the motives of people who undertake sponsored treks in the name of charity. His point was that, if charity is meant to be a selfless act, shouldn’t people just volunteer their time or donate money rather than ‘enjoy adventure holidays’? Pretty soon we had another letter on our desk, calling these comments ‘harsh’. And one particular group of people was even less impressed – Gulf For Good (G4G), the Dubai-based charity whose business it is to organise these very treks.
‘While not directed at G4G, your reader’s letter negatively hits at the core of what we do,’ says Patricia Anderson, an employee of the charity and sometime trekker. She was sure that plenty of past G4G challengers would like a chance to ‘counteract pointless negativity’, and it’s true – within a day, we were presented with a long list of men and women just itching to talk.
Girish Shivanand, an Indian Dubai resident who raised Dhs24,000 trekking the Inca Trail, Peru in July, was able to visit the school he was raising money for while trekking with G4G. ‘That the money would be going to children’s education really motivated me to do [the challenge],’ Shivanand says. He and his fellow challengers helped renovate the school, and had a chance to talk with teachers and parents, too. ‘We tried to motivate them and they did get motivated and felt happy about it,’ he says. How did that make him feel? ‘It gives a sense of fulfillment, you know? The feeling that you’ve contributed to somebody else’s life.’
Shivanand’s point is that he didn’t just ‘go on holiday’, but personally contributed to the cause as well as raising money. Perhaps this is actually a better way of giving to charity, then? ‘I don’t think any one of the ways comes out on top,’ he responds. ‘Some people prefer to donate, but on the other side somebody like me and the 12 people that were with me like to do it a different way. They serve the same purpose. So it’s an individual’s choice.’
Conversely, Australian Dubai-dweller Nabil Habbouche, who completed a G4G challenge in Borneo in 2007 and is planning to climb Kilimanjaro with G4G next year, argues that sponsored treks are a better way to support good causes than simply donating. In Borneo, there are many children who work on tea plantations with their parents, purely because there are no other options available to them. Habbouche’s trip to Borneo raised money to build schools for these children, as well as to buy transport to and from them. ‘We got hands-on and met the kids and saw what it was all about,’ he says. ‘We painted the school, we played soccer with the kids, we got involved with the locals. We had very limited time, but it gave us that bit of human contact between us and them. Whereas if you just give a cheque out and never see it again, you don’t really get to appreciate that human aspect.’
Anderson says that human aspect can help forge a more long-term relationship between challenger and charity. ‘Some challengers continue to have contact with the charity and the children, even after the project they funded is completed,’ she tells us. ‘And they come back filled with stories and compassion for those that they met on the challenge, raising awareness of the plight of these children [among] everyone around them.’
Both Shivanand and Habbouche emphasise the personal effort it takes to complete a sponsored challenge. ‘I had to fly back to New Delhi to get a Peruvian visa,’ says Shivanand. ‘I paid for my own tickets to Peru. It shows that I really meant to do something, to put a smile on a child’s face.’ Habbouche agrees: ‘I could take a holiday and sit on some beach and do nothing and not help anyone. I’m taking my annual leave, we train three to four months in advance, we’re out there busting our chops and people don’t think about that. And if I can do something to help other people while enjoying myself at the same time, then why not?’
Perhaps the bottom line is that these treks do help people. And if challengers donate all the money pledged to them (that is, they pay for travel to and from the trek out of their own pockets), that’s no small amount. As Anderson points out, ‘Not just the participant donates, but their friends, family, colleagues and corporate sponsors too.’ As long as those donations are flooding in, we don’t see why these charities should cause a storm.
Gulf For Good is holding an information evening on October 27. Call 04 368 0222 for more details. See www.gulf4good.org for upcoming treks.
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triptta fernandez Oct 07, 2009 08:04 pm
i couldnt agree more with girish and habbouche. charity comes from the heart and can take what ever form it needs to. Atleast we are contributing, and contributing towards a cause we believe in 'children'. There are a lot who dont .. and that is their choice ,no one should be putting down one's effort or lack off, in any manner .. it is JUST a personal choice.