Ever thought that your weekend run on the beach could build schools, or that your jog up flights of stairs could give a family a home? UAE-based charity Gulf for Good turns sporting challenges into opportunities for fitness fans to make a difference.
The organisation was founded in 2001 by friends Brian Wilkie and Paul Oliver, who were both interested in outdoor activities and humanitarian issues. The pair came up with the idea while on a cycle challenge across Cuba to raise money for a guide dogs’ charity in the UK. As they cycled through the island and saw the immense poverty there, they wondered why they were working in a poor country to raise money for a charity in a rich country. Gulf for Good was founded on that principle. Every year the organisation sets up four physically demanding challenges giving participants a chance to travel to once-in-a-lifetime destinations and push themselves to their physical limits while supporting worthwhile charities in those locations.
To date, Gulf for Good has completed 48 adventure challenges, raising sponsorship worth more than Dhs9.1 million for schools, hospitals and orphanages in 23 countries in the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa, and to provide medical equipment for them.
Tricia Evans, the organisation’s leadership coach and governor for strategic advice, helps coordinate the trips and liaises with the charities. She has completed eight challenges herself and says that they offer a unique opportunity and chance to step outside of your comfort zone. ‘It’s tough. This is not a walk around Safa Park. It’s not for the faint-hearted,’ she says. ‘Two months ago we were camping in two-man tents in Mongolia in temperatures of –15°C, and after the summer in Dubai it was a bit of a shock.’
Evans suggests that participants give themselves at least three months to train and prepare physically and mentally for each challenge. ‘In Mongolia, I was on horseback for two days, riding for six hours a day. Before I went, I thought horse riding was a passive sport, but now I know why John Wayne walks the way he does,’ she jokes.
The annual adventure trips include a high altitude trek, cycling, low altitude treks and a muti-activity trip, which includes sea kayaking or horse riding. But Evans says it’s not just the physical activity that’s challenging. ‘Most people who are reasonably fit can do day one of the challenge right now. But the real task is sleeping in a tent or a little boarding house. It’s seriously basic. You sleep in a tent and you get up and kayak for six hours a day and do it again the next day, and the day after that – that’s difficult.’
Keeping in mind the desire to support the host country, the organisation has a strong network of charities that it works with and ‘ground handlers’ who support the expedition and help with itineraries and accommodation. Gulf for Good also revisits charities it has worked with in the past, and every challenge includes a day’s visit to the school, hospital or orphanage that funds have been raised for, which Evans says is a truly humbling experience. ‘It makes you realise just how lucky we all are.’
Gulf for Good not only supports disadvantaged communities around the world, but helps the sporting community here in Dubai by offering a free training calendar to all residents, whether they are signed up for one of the organisation’s events or not.
‘We started doing this because people weren’t getting enough of the right kind of fitness to get ready for the challenges. But we’ve opened it up to anyone who is interested in Gulf for Good. They can come along, have a chat and train with us. We’ve found it a good way for people to really decide if they want to get involved and do a challenge.’ Even though Gulf for Good’s experiences are extremely demanding, Evans says that anyone who is determined enough can do it. ‘It’s difficult to say how fit you need to be, but we’re not targeting triathletes. We’re targeting ordinary human beings who want to be challenged.’
The organisation is currently signing up participants for next year’s experiences, which will include a multi-challenge trip to the Philippines, trekking to Everest Base Camp, cycling through Uganda and a low altitude trek in Palestine. Gulf for Good also hosts information evenings for interested challengers. The next one will be held at 7pm on Wednesday December 10 at Adventure HQ, Times Square Center, Sheikh Zayed Road.
To sign up visit www.gulf4good.org (04 368 0222).
Another sporty charity
Maria Cristina Foundation
Founded by Maria Conceicao in 2005. The founder has competed in numerous sporting and adventure challenges with all funds providing education and social assistance to street children in Dhaka, Bangladesh.