In March 2001, two UAE-based pals, Brian Wilkie and Paul Oliver, were on a cycle tour of Cuba to raise funds for Guide Dogs for the Blind, based in the UK. Shocked by the poverty in the Latin American isle, they had a revelation. Why were they working to raise money for a rich nation such as Britain when there was so much deprivation elsewhere?
On returning to the UAE, a friend told them he was raising funds for ambulances in Africa and they decided to climb Kilimanjaro to help. Realising there was little scope in the UAE for residents to undertake voluntary work, they founded Gulf for Good.
The premise of the charity is simple. Volunteers sign up for one of the overseas challenges, which in the past have included trekking through Ethiopia, ascending to Everest Base Camp and Machu Picchu in Peru or, closer to home, cycling through the seven emirates of the UAE. The participants have to raise a set amount, then Gulf for Good provides physical training before the trip and transport to the country, as well as guides, accommodation and food while there. All the money raised goes towards children’s projects in the country of the challenge, and volunteers get a chance to visit the projects they are funding.
Over the past decade, Dubai-based Gulf for Good has organised 33 trips overseas, involving more than 750 participants from 40 different nationalities, and has raised US$1.7 million for charities in 23 different countries. It’s an outstanding amount, but organiser Patricia Anderson says there have been some serious hurdles to overcome, none more so than tailoring challenges to the UAE’s melting pot of cultures.
‘It’s a challenge, but it’s also a great advantage,’ she explains. ‘For example, I went to Ethiopia last year – in our group of 20 people, we had nine different nationalities. So the trips include a mix of high altitude and low altitude, cycling, walking, kayaking and the like. You’re with these people for days on end, but it does mean that when you’re on these trips you get to have some amazing conversations.’
But surely not everyone is fit enough to tackle some of the most destitute regions in the world, and the challenges must be fraught with danger? ‘Actually, we’ve only had one serious injury in all the time we’ve been running the challenges,’ claims Patricia. ‘That happened on one of our trips when someone tried to rescue a donkey that had fallen into a ditch and they had their thumb bitten off. But that was here in the UAE, actually. Obviously, you have people who have tumbles, or sprain an ankle. Altitude sickness is relatively common, but there’s nothing you can do to predict this because some people are just really susceptible to it. Explorer Adrian Hayes did Kilimanjaro with us last year, and he’s probably the fittest guy I know, but just couldn’t manage it because of altitude sickness. He’s climbed Mount Everest before, but the difference is that you climb Everest ultra-slowly, whereas Kilimanjaro you only have six days. ’
And what’s next for Gulf for Good? Patricia says there’s a load of events that volunteers can sign up for and get training. Who knows? It might just change your life.
For more information, visit www.gulf4good.org
The Wilds of Borneo Challenge
Gulf for Good will be heading to Borneo in Malaysia to kayak in a marine park, cycle around tea plantations, bamboo raft on river rapids and hike to the summit of South-East Asia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095m high. With nights in a river camp and traditional longhouse, this will be a one-off experience. Funds raised will be donated to charities educating disadvantaged children in Borneo. Participants must raise at least Dhs19,000 in sponsorship.
Everest Base Camp Challenge
Trek through the foothills of the world’s mightiest mountains to reach the infamous base camp at 5,360m. Not for the faint-hearted, the 10-day route plus two acclimatisation days covers some of the most rugged and spectacular terrain in the world. Funds raised will help care for and educate orphans in Nepal. Raise a minimum of Dhs19,000 to get involved.
November 27-December 2
Cycle the Seven Emirates
Cycle through the wadis, mountains and deserts of all seven emirates in just six days to raise funds for a charity school in Ajman. Follow back routes on- and off-road, with nights in campsites and barasti huts, and see the UAE from a new perspective. Raise Dhs12,000 in sponsorship for this trip.
To sign up, visit www.gulf4good.org