Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Taking charity in their stride
Global Times | April 26, 2012 18:00
By Ni Dandan
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The dignified and pretty old town of Zhujiajiao in Qingpu district is used to seeing people going for a walk in the park. But last Saturday the old town and its inhabitants watched more than 2,000 going for a 50-kilometer walk. Not quite a walk in the park - they were all braving wind and drizzle to walk for an egg.

Not just any ordinary egg either. This walk, the Egg Hike, was the inspiration of the Shanghai United Foundation, an NGO that helps raise funds for a range of charities. This is the third Egg Hike following charity walks in Suzhou in 2010 and Chongming Island in 2011. It is called the Egg Hike because the first outing raised funds to make sure children living in poverty-stricken areas like Guizhou Province could be given an egg to eat every day.

This year the event was intended to raise money for eggs again but also to help children suffering from autism in the city, to provide exercise equipment for migrant workers' children here and to establish libraries for children in rural areas. While the number of charities has increased, the number of dedicated walkers involved has also increased. This year 208 teams signed up for the event, each comprised of at least 10 members. And the endurance levels also increased. More than half of this year's participants walked the entire 50-kilometer stretch - last year only a touch over 20 percent managed to complete the course.

"Although we're not aiming just to provide eggs for children anymore, the Egg Hike has become famous and is now the brand name for our campaign. We will continue to call it the Egg Hike in the future. Our present orientation is to help children. We will consider helping other groups in the future," Wang Zhiyun, the secretary-general of the Shanghai United Foundation, told the Global Times.

Wang said the foundation had been aiming to raise 1 million yuan ($158,600) this year. But by the time the participants arrived at the starting line for the walk this year, this goal had already been achieved. Last year, the foundation raised around 690,000 yuan.

"It's been a great success this year. We're very excited about it. The awareness of charity work has been growing at an amazing pace in Shanghai. Last year many of the participants regarded the walk as just an outing. This time we particularly emphasized the charity aspect of the event. When we saw more than 2,000 people signing up for the walk, we had to close the enrollments earlier than planned because we had limited capacity. Shanghai is a city of great compassion. In the past, the enthusiasm for charity was simply not inspired properly," Wang said.

As good as karaoke

When Hu Zhongjian finished the course in 5 hours and 18 minutes, his performance astonished everyone waiting at the finish line. He was even more surprised himself. "My goal was 6 hours and 30 minutes. If I could finish the 50 kilometers within this time, my colleagues had promised they would each donate 100 yuan or 50 yuan," Hu told the Global Times.

"I was worried that I might not be able to make it in the time limit, so I ran most of the way and only walked when I drank water or ate energy bars. I never imagined that I could finish this distance in just over 5 hours," the 26-year-old smiled. "But walking or running make me feel relaxed. Whenever I feel tired, I go for a run. Walking is as much fun for me as karaoke is for others."

Working for a German company in the city, Hu was inspired to take part in the Egg Hike because of the support from his company which pledged to donate 500 yuan to the charity for every employee who finished. Last year in Chongming when Hu first participated, he said he barely understood the rules. "I didn't know that the money was raised by the participants being sponsored by their friends, colleagues and family members. If they finish the length of the walk they say they will, like 30 kilometers, then people pay the amounts they promised," Hu said.

By involving people around them with the details of the charity work and the walk itself, the participants not only steer donations to the target but also spread knowledge about the charities involved. Erin Allman, from the US, told the Global Times: "I have been promised almost 7,000 yuan in donations. Only one person sponsored me, the rest made donations. I'm very happy. As long as I did my best, my friends said they were happy to support me and support the children."

Allman said she'd taken part in several walking events in the US and some events in Japan, Mexico and Italy. In Shanghai she has been walking every day, trying to keep herself fit and healthy and prepared for events like this.

Office worker Song Wei, although not a sports fan herself, joined in, supported by her friends. "My friends donated nearly 2,000 yuan. Most of them just made donations regardless of how I finished the walk. And the team I belonged to raised more than 10,000 yuan," Song said. She set herself a 30-kilometer finish as a goal. Before this the hardest walking she had done, she joked, had been when she went shopping in high heels for eight hours without a break.

A star look-alike

One of the participants who stood out from the others was Oon Soon Keat. Not just because he looks a lot like the Hong Kong film star Chow Yun-fat but that at 58 years old the Malaysian was obviously much older than most of the participants. This was the third Egg Hike for Brother Fat as he has been nicknamed.

"Both the previous events I had taken part in I had walked for about 40 kilometers but my feet were badly blistered. This time I prepared," he said. "I used to exercise 40 minutes every day, rotating running, swimming and yoga. A month ago, I increased my exercise time to one hour a day and two weeks ago, I increased that again to two hours every day."

The oldest participant on the day Oon Soon Keat said the big appeal for him was challenging himself to go to extremes. "My family all said that I was crazy. Given my age I shouldn't be here. But I like being with young people and joining in events like this." He said it was a pity most of the people he knew knew he would finish the route so not as many wanted to sponsor him.

Last year's winner, Shi Wenjie, agreed that the real fun of the event was the challenge to himself. This year Shi organized a team of 10, mostly colleagues from the international youth hostel he works for. A hiking and cycling enthusiast, Shi began to take part in distance walking events in 2010. That year he took 8 hours to finish the 50 kilometers. In 2011 in Chongming, he was the first to cross the finish line in 7 hours and 10 minutes.

"The most fun for me has always been constantly challenging myself and improving my performance. I think I am even more motivated knowing there is a charity benefiting from this," Shi told the Global Times. This time, he personally raised 5,000 yuan and his team collected 10,000 yuan.

Raising awareness

The Egg Hike is about the physical challenge and fun, but more importantly it's about raising public awareness for charities, said Wang Yun, the operator of Xie Li Zhu Xue, an NGO that helps underprivileged students in Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. The organization is one that will benefit from money raised by the Shanghai United Foundation.

"Last week in Suzhou there was a 50-kilometer walk. And a while ago, there was another in Shenzhen. There are many walks in the country, but not many of them involve charities. I think that combining the two should be encouraged more," Wang said. On this walk almost everyone in Wang's team completed the course and raised more than 35,000 yuan, making it the leading fundraiser for the event.

"The domestic charity sector has been developing very rapidly in recent years, though it's still lagging behind those in the developed world. The effect of the early scandals in the charity sector cannot be ignored. Still more people are becoming enthusiastic about helping charities but find it difficult to locate platforms where they can do this effectively," Wang said.

Wang spent nearly 20 years in the UK and believes that educating people about charity should begin when they are children. "When my child went to a kindergarten in the UK, I found them turning minor activities in the classroom into little charity events. When my 5-year-old began to learn rope skipping in the kindergarten, their teacher handed out forms to everyone in the class. The children were told to give the forms to their parents and their relatives. The forms sought pledges based on how many jumps the child could do - like if a child made five jumps the adults would have to pay a small sum, like one or two pounds, and this money would go to charity. The kindergarten teacher would stamp the form if the child managed to do the five jumps and the child would take the form home to claim the promised money from his family. It was a small thing. But it was important and practical," Wang said.

US participant Erin Allman said that when she was very small, her mother involved her in charity work.

"Most of the events I took part in back in the US were raising money for cancer. That's a very personal cause for me. I once took part in a 24-hour walk. For that event, not every participant needed to walk 24 hours consecutively, but we needed to make sure at least one person was walking throughout the period. I remembered they had a lighting display in the evening and the lights spelled the word 'hope.' I was walking from 2 am till 4 am, which was my shift. The motivation for me was the hope that was lit and the fact that even the people who were not with us any more, the people that we were walking for and the people that might get cancer in the future, were counting on us to finish," she said.

Allman said that she was pleased to see Shanghai catching up in the charity field. The company she works with, a US chemical producer, offered four times as many walkers as it needed. "The attraction of these long-distance walks is about the personal challenge, but it's also about the fact that if you're really behind a cause and you're willing to take a big risk like this, it actually makes it easier to raise funds because people see what you've done and they want to be part of that as well. It's good leadership," Allman said.

Out in the open

With five programs to support this time, the Shanghai United Foundation has been careful to make everything it does open to the public. "We make it clear why we need to raise this money, why we need the amounts we say, where the money is kept, how children have benefited and the channels through which they have been assisted," said Wang Zhiyun. She said that the administrative expenditure was also published. "We have an information bulletin board so all the information goes online quickly."

Wang said that for the five programs covered in this event there were five separate sections looking after the management. "They each submitted their detailed project plans, what they'd like to do and how much money they needed. We have an evaluation system to see what is appropriate."

Wang discussed the relationship between her NGO and the city government. "I would say it's like a partnership. Without government support, there are many limitations for events like this that involve the participation of large numbers of people. The city government wants to get more people to learn about charity work and welfare and get more of them to learn about the way to help practically through our platform," Wang said. 

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