Founding a new charity for landmine survivors and running the Beirut Marathon is all in a day’s work for Jonty Fernandez. He talks to Laura Chubb
Jonty Fernandez, a Kiwi expat in Dubai, is a man on a mission. Not content with setting up his own charity to help landmine survivors – raising funds through sponsored endurance challenges in the Gulf region – he’s also in the midst of training for this Sunday’s Beirut Marathon, the launch event for his venture, 3LSurvivors.
Why did you want to help landmine survivors? The wars have moved on, but the landmines [and their threat to the community] remain. That’s a massive tragedy. When I was 23, living and teaching English in South Korea, I stumbled across some information on the internet that really stuck to me. A convention called Ottawa Landmine Treaty – aiming to ban the use of landmines – had been approved by many countries but rejected by a small group. That shocked me. In the midst of my political awakening, I was amazed to read that even the US deemed landmines as ‘necessary arsenal’ in their military. I thought, imagine if we could create an ‘anti-venom’ to the landmine issue, something we could define as necessary arsenal in the war against landmine use.
Why do that with physical challenges? For me, it’s because it requires a hell of a lot of commitment, sacrifice and hardship to go through these challenges. When you persevere and you overcome a massive challenge, it gives you a much stronger appreciation for what other people are going through. It’s a way of showing commitment [to the cause]. For example, you don’t train for a marathon and then go out and drink during the weekends. You absolutely have to give up [those] behaviours to achieve it. In a sense, you’re sacrificing a lot of the softness of your life, the niceties of going out with your friends. You know, everybody works a long, hard week, and then to go and do some training on a Thursday night… when you’re out there training you remind yourself what you’re training for. Plus, it’s a passion of mine to get out there in the great outdoors and to get other people out there and enjoying it.
You’re training for the Beirut Marathon, right? How’s that going? Yes, our launch event is the Beirut Marathon. I work in Abu Dhabi so I commute for three, three and a half hours a day. You get these 4am starts where you put in a 10 to 12km run before going home, showering and getting ready to drive to Abu Dhabi. But I love it. I [enjoy] having a goal and I’ve pretty much re-shaped my body. I’ve lost about 7kg.
So why the Beirut Marathon? It’s fitting considering that Beirut has experienced the destructive, sapping nature of war, and they have a landmine issue in southern Lebanon from those wars. So having a massive marathon run through their streets – they even managed to keep the marathon going through 2006 [when further Israeli-Lebanese violence broke out] – is a political statement as well. Their marathon has grown from 6,500 people in 2003 to 27,000 participants last year. So it’s a nice example of survival from the people of Beirut.
What will the money you raise go towards? We give the funds to a company called Jaipur Foot, which is the largest company in the world for supply and shipment of artificial limbs to people in economically challenged regions. It’s that simple. US$40 [Dhs147] is the average cost of a prosthetic limb for a seriously injured survivor. So people know that a donation of US$40 will contribute to the creation of a limb.
What other challenges have you got lined up? We’ve got people running the RAK Half Marathon and the Dubai Marathon. Over the next year or so we want to take on a couple of more serious adventure races, and we’re looking forward to putting a team together for the Adventure Race in Abu Dhabi next year.
3LSurvivors has just started out. Need volunteers? We’re looking for some help in the marketing element of it and also in administration. We’re also looking to join forces with [existing charities]. I’d like to hear from anyone who wants to share ideas and experiences. Learn more about 3LSurvivors at www.3lsurvivors.com. To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org