The excitement and energy at the finish line of the Zurich marathon were palpable on a sunny Sunday morning on 9th April, as runners crossed the finish line in well-deserved joy, joining their friends and family cheering for them. Some smiles were noticeable wider and more joyful than the others. 70 runners, representing the Asha Zurich foundation had a special reason to be proud of their achievement. They were running for a cause greater than themselves – they had just successfully managed to raise more than CHF 40,000 in charity, enabling around 600 children to go to school for a year!
Asha Zurich – bringing education to underprivileged children
Founded in 1991, Asha for Education is a non-political organisation dedicated to bringing socio-economic change in India by focusing on access to basic education for disadvantaged communities. As of 2017, there are over 50 Asha chapters worldwide including US, Canada, Europe and India.
Asha Zurich was founded as an Asha chapter by ETH students in 2002. Members come from diverse professions and volunteer their time free of cost. The organisation collects funds through various fundraisers such as a charity run in Zurich Marathon, Indian food stands and Bollywood parties. Personal and corporate donations come to their aid too.
Over the last 15 years, the foundation has undertaken more than 10 projects in collaboration with independent non-profit partners in India. More than CHF 500,000 has been transferred to these projects sending more than 3,000 underprivileged children to school.
Running for a philanthropic cause
Running for a cause such as education has transformed the sport of competitive running into one with a wider appeal – a philanthropic purpose. The gruelling, yet gratifying effects of completing a run translate into tangible benefits such as a child being able to go to school.
Every year, volunteers and well-wishers of Asha Zurich form teams and participate in the Zurich Marathon’s annual run. Volunteers can run as a team which comprises of 4 runners who complete a collective distance of 42.2 Km. The distances to be covered by a single runner in a team are broken down into 4 Km, 9 Km, 11.7 Km and 17.5 Km. In addition, one can also run the full distance of 42.2 Km or a city run of 10 Km as an individual runner. Runners raise funds when their friends, colleagues and family sponsor their runs by donating to Asha through their profiles.
This is the 6th year that Asha Zurich has raised funds by participating in the Zurich marathon. This year, the team has raised more than their target, CHF 40,000 through 15 teams, 4 full marathoners and 6 city runners, the number or participants and funds raised having grown significantly over the last six years.
70 runners from various nationalities took part in the marathon this year. Indians, Swiss, German, American, Argentinian, British and Bulgarian runners together ran a grand total of 1,030.6 Km. The funds raised this year will be instrumental in sending an estimated 600 children to school.
What motivates runners and volunteers?
The enthusiasm among volunteers and team members was quite evident in every role they undertook, whether they were running as part of the marathon, or handing out refreshments after the race or even as they were cheering along the sidelines for the runners. Asha Zurich members, Pratyush Das Kanungo, Tulika Agrawal, Rajesh Varadarajan, Sachin Mehta and Namita Agrawal were actively involved in managing the event. The team showed their commitment in various ways. Sachin, who is based in Dubai, flew down at his personal expense to be part of the team run. Others, such as volunteer Kirtimalini Gadre, handed out homemade sandwiches and other refreshments with a smile on her face.
We spoke with some of the runners who shared their stories.
Indranil Bhattacharya, who ran the full marathon this year, has been associated with Asha for Education for many years. From being instrumental in organising the first run in 2012, to actively running now, Indranil has come a long way. He now runs nearly 5 marathons a year. He encourages people to stay fit and also helps train runners for the marathon. He says, “The act of volunteering has given me much more than I have ever given to the organisation.” He firmly believes that the transformation that happened to his life, is due in big part to him being a volunteer for Asha Zurich. He encourages readers of Namaste Switzerland to, “Enjoy the journey of life, keep on volunteering, keep on helping others, and live a healthy life!”
Anindya Mukherjee, was one of Asha Zurich’s earliest runners. In 2012, despite being in poor health, he was determined to run as part of a team run. Volunteers of Asha Zurich accompanied him through snow and a hailstorm. “For me, it was a life-changing experience…I felt that I managed to contribute something to society”, he says. Speaking to Namaste Switzerland from the finish line, after completing the full marathon this year, Anindya reflects on how the marathon has evolved over a period of years and how the inspirational the journey has been. He believes that there is nothing quite like the feeling of kids going to school, as an outcome of just four hours of time spent on a Sunday morning.
Mary Das, who ran for the first time this year as part of a team run, was inspired by her husband, who is a regular marathon runner. As part of her efforts to raise funds for the run, and aided by family and friends, she had set up a cake stand that helped raise donations for the run. Reminiscing her childhood days, when she was part of the ‘Each One Teach One’ mission, she recalls how she used to teach children from the slums in Delhi. She is glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to children’s education yet again.
Friendships were forged over 42.2 Km, the fierce determination to reach the finish line was evident in the eyes of many, and a positive message of fitness and good health resonated with everyone present. Each runner had a unique story to tell, while at the same time, every runner had the same sense of contentment that comes from the joy of running for a cause greater than themselves.
Asha Zurich also has a program called ‘Charity as your hobby’ which allows donors to pledge a small amount as a regular donation towards Asha Zurich. Its ‘Support A Child program’ enables Zurich-based donors to take care of individual children. If you would like to know more about Asha Zurich and the projects they support, you could read more at http://www.asha-zurich.ch or mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy Asha Zurich