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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

THE ZEIT GIST

Meeting the charity challenge


By ALENA ECKELMANN

Can you imagine yourself completing a 100-km mountain trail in 48 hours and — if this is not enough of a challenge — begging your family, friends and colleagues to part with some hard-earned cash and sponsor you? What's more, could you do all this voluntarily for the sake of a good cause? If so, welcome to the Oxfam Trailwalker and the world of charity challenges.

News photo
For a good cause: Active types participate in last year's Oxfam Japan Trailwalker, a 100 km charity hike from Odawara to Lake Yamanaka. COURTESY OF OXFAM JAPAN

Fundraising based on physical activities such as walks, runs, bike rides or mountain treks have become popular in Japan in recent years. Participants raise money to support a nonprofit organization by collecting donations or pledges for completing a pre-determined course.

Walking a trail of 100 km from Odawara to Lake Yamanaka in the vicinity of Mount Fuji is a tough yet rewarding experience. This is the Japan Trailwalker, the latest regional twist on an event that started in Hong Kong. The original trail was based on a grueling military drill for Nepalese Gurkha soldiers posted to the former U.K. territory with the British Army. It is now a public fundraising event that has spread to Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand.

The first Trailwalker in Japan was held in 2007. This year's third round will take place from May 22 to 24. Participants raise at least ¥120,000 per team to support Oxfam's work around the world. Anyone with the right level of training and commitment to the challenge and the cause can still sign up at www.trailwalker.jp/en/.

Akiko Mera, executive officer at Oxfam Japan since 2003, has seen the event through from the idea stage to organizing the upcoming third walk. The inaugural Trailwalker saw 150 teams at the starting line, last year 200 teams signed up, and this year about 250 teams are expected to brave the course.

Mera is positive that this event still has plenty of room to grow. "It is a chain reaction like in the movie 'Pay It Forward,' " she says. "One challenge brings on another challenge." In the film, a young boy snowballs social change by paying good deeds forward rather than back.

Fredrik Wass, a native of Sweden, will take to the trail for the first time this year. "Raising money for charity while pushing yourself to achieve a tough challenge, this is a great combination. Working towards a good cause and involving friends and family for support means it is not only an event for ourselves, but for people around us as well who help us along and support Oxfam with their donations."

Briton Tim Bennett is already a Trailwalker Japan veteran. He will be participating for the third time later this month. "I think it's like many things in life. If you get involved then you feel much more committed and mentally rewarded." In 2008 his team raised close to ¥500,000.

Run for the Cure/Walk for Life, held annually in October, is organized by the charity of the same name, whose stated mission is to eradicate breast cancer in Japan. The course around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo attracts a crowd of about 1,000 people, including runners, walkers and their supporters (see www.runforthecure.org/events/index_en.html ).

There is a participation fee-cum- donation of ¥5,000 per person. In 2008 a total of ¥6.7 million was raised. These funds were used to purchase much-needed mammography equipment that was donated to Japanese hospitals.

Amy Dose, an American woman, took part in the Run for the Cure last year to show support for her mother and her two aunts, all of whom are cancer survivors. "A few years ago, my mom, aunts, sister, cousin and I all traveled to Chicago (our halfway point) to participate in this charity walk/run. We did it for three years consecutively. It was a great time for female bonding and a little travel, and above all we did it for a very good cause. Since I couldn't travel back to the U.S. this year, I decided to run it here in Japan in their honor."

The Tokyo English Life Line (TELL), a registered nonprofit organization, organizes the TELL Charity Walk and Runathon (see www.telljp.com/index.php?/en/event/runathon_2009 ), also around the Imperial Palace. This year on May 2nd saw the 10th anniversary of this event. Participants make a ¥3,500 donation and all proceeds go to support TELL's work of providing confidential counseling and support to Tokyo's international and Japanese communities.

"The TELL charity run was yet another great reason to get out there and support the community at the same time as getting some exercise," says Dose, who participated in this run too. "I like running, so I'll find a cause or organization that I really want to support and then let my feet do the rest."

The organization with probably the longest tradition of charity runs in Japan is the YMCA. Their International Charity Runs are a series of "fun run" relays that take place in 13 locations across the country. The Tokyo run has been held for 23 years now (see tokyo.ymca.or.jp/charityrun/charityrun.html ).

"A physical challenge combined with a fundraising challenge is suited to Japanese people's social-contribution mind set," says Emiko Tokunaga, executive director of the Foreign Community Supporting Committee (FCSC) at the National Council of YMCAs of Japan. "It is truly a case of killing two birds with one stone, because people can train their body while contributing to raising funds for charity."

The participation fee is a donation of ¥100,000 per team, and all proceeds go to the YMCA Challenged Children Project. The CCP initiative organizes camps around Japan to provide opportunities for children of disadvantaged families to experience the outdoors.

Apart from charity challenges organized by nonprofit organizations, there are also initiatives undertaken by individuals in support of their charity of choice. This writer ran the Tokyo Marathon to raise funds for The Condor Trust for Education, a charity registered in the U.K. ( www.condortrust.org/ ).

At the first Tokyo Marathon three years ago, I managed to raise ¥520,000, and at this year's I made another ¥150,000. The Condor Trust provides children from low- or zero-income homes in Ecuador the opportunity to go to secondary school and ultimately to find work.

Chris Patrick, founder of The Condor Trust, says: "Global contacts and the Internet have brought exciting new possibilities to link people around the world in order to improve lives. We raise money from people in many countries. Some Japanese friends and contacts have been very generous in their support, and we decided to use the Tokyo Marathon as a way of trying to increase donations."

Leigh Norrie rode his bike across all of Japan's prefectures and wrote a book about his journey to raise funds for the Chi-Ki Children's Foundation ( www.chiki.ca/ ), a Canadian- and U.S.-registered charity that supports the education of children in Laos and other Third World countries. Including funds from events related to the bike ride, donations and sales of the book, he managed to raise around ¥400,000.

Combining a personal challenge with a fundraising objective is a great way to help the wider community. "It would be a waste to not even try to combine the two challenges," says Norrie. "The worst thing that can happen is that you raise no money. I learned a lot from my experience, and about how much more could be done."

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