19 December 2017

Sudan: Inaugural Dabanga Run-a-Thon a Runaway Success!

Maastricht — More than 15 runners, and several supporters, braved wintery conditions at a running track in the southwestern Dutch city of Maastricht on Saturday December 9 2017 to raise funds and awareness for Radio Dabanga, the only radio station that provides independent and reliable news in Sudan.

The inspiring event - in which runners complete sponsored laps and public donors are encouraged to contribute via GoFundMe - was even more successful than anyone hoped for, and plans are already afoot to repeat the run-a-thon in the fall of 2018.

The Dabanga run-a-thon was the brainchild of coordinator/lecturer Chris Sparks of the School of Business and Economics (SBE), and students Tobias Sparwasser-Soroka and Pierre Schmitt from University College Maastricht (UCM), both part of the prestigious University of Maastricht, as part of a study on public engagement.

They were joined by two volunteers Kibibi and Anika from the High School of the United World College (UWC) in Maastricht.

Impressive scores

The runners set-off to complete sponsored laps. One participant achieved an impressive score of 25 laps (10 kilometres!) and raised € 1,000. Several others managed to run up to 20 circuits of the track.

An amount of €3,000 has been collected thus far, but referring to outstanding pledges, Chris Sparks says "we don't have an exact number on that yet because there are still donations coming in". Chris also hopes to drum-up support from donors in the USA, so watch this space.

Inspirational atmosphere

Personally, Chris Sparks has spent time in sub-Saharan Africa and feels a special connection to the subcontinent. "My heart is still in the [African] bush; I always feel I need to be somehow connected to Africa, so if I can contribute in this way, then I'm very happy to be part of Dabanga".

"The event brought together a coalition of different interest groups," says Chris. "What Dabanga set out to do in the beginning was to introduce some entrepreneurship into their fundraising. So we threw into the world an MBP (minimal buyable product) in the form of the Dabanga run-a-thon to learn how the people in our region receive that sort of thing; what are the best ways to get people to agree to, for example, give up some comfort in the form of running in the cold, to donate a little bit of money, even if it's just 20 cents a lap?"

"Learning how that stuff works is what we did with this very first event. We now plan to do it again, and again, and again..."

"Learning how that stuff works is what we did with this very first event. We now plan to do it again, and again, and again, and hopefully be able to hand this over to another group of students in about a year and a half; but we're as the existing team going to do this again in the fall of 2018.

"The idea is if you try a new thing is it doesn't matter how perfect it is. It's just that you have to start somewhere, and that was this first run-a-thon," Chris says.

Learning curve

"On the European GoFundMe site, we had an anonymous donation of almost €2,000, which is the best surprise you can have," says University of Maastricht student Tobias Sparwasser-Soroka who was one of the main organisers. "While this wasn't the first event I have organised, it's the first one directly linked to a good cause."

Tobias says that "while it's a great thing to organise a successful event and be happy with the turnout and happy with the people it is an entirely different feeling when you do so in the knowledge that it also benefits the greater good. That's something I've never fully experienced before and it's motivated me to do the Dabanga run-a-thon again and to look how I can further get involved."

Darfuri student

"The atmosphere was amazing," says Tobias. "The people who came out did so on the coldest day we've had thus far in December. They were just the most motivated, engaged group of people I've ever met in Maastricht.

"One of the highlights for me was meeting Abdul, a UWC student who hails from Darfur. He mentioned to us that his grandparents in Sudan rely on Radio Dabanga for news every day. It brought home how far the reach is of Radio Dabanga and how much of an impact it can have."

"One of the highlights for me was meeting Abdul, a UWC student who hails from Darfur. He mentioned to us that his grandparents in Sudan rely on Radio Dabanga for news every day. It brought home how far the reach is of Radio Dabanga and how much of an impact it can have."

Team effort

"It was great to be part of the Dabanga run-a-thon, even if I did not actually run," says Suzanne Bakker, Team Leader Sudans at Free Press Unlimited, the NGO basted in Amsterdam in the Netherlands that currently facilitates and manages Radio Dabanga. "I really went to Maastricht to show the organisers and the runners how much we at Dabanga appreciate their efforts and commitment; their support to our cause and our team.

"It was a very, very cold day and within minutes my feet felt frozen. But my heart was really warmed by the enthusiasm of everyone there. It was so uplifting to meet all these young people. They came because it seemed to them that Dabanga represents something important to preserve. When they saw I was there on behalf of the team, they started asking me loads of questions: About what Dabanga reports on? How do we know these things are facts? How can reach the people in Sudan while based in the Netherlands?

Encouraging

"It was really encouraging to see that they were really in awe of what our small team does and achieves. And they pushed themselves really to the limit to run as many laps as they could. One of my friends, who came to help me cheer them on, was so impressed that when he went home, he immediately donated on the GoFundMe page!

"And you know, at that moment, it felt like we could really reach the hearts of everyone here in the Netherlands and maybe even beyond," says Suzanne. "The students plan to post a video that they hope will go viral in the next few weeks. The funds raised by the runners and the GoFundMe donors will be used to make that happen.

"Before, I was at a bit of a loss as to how to reach out to the general public and to 'get them on our side' - now, as my toes thaw after that magical day in the cold, I know anything is possible."

Fundraising for Radio Dabanga

In addition to raising funds by running, people can still donate via two GoFundMe campaigns: one focused on European public and one for the US public. Both are still open, so feel free to make a donation. The money will be used to produce a professional video to support further campaigning and fundraising for Radio Dabanga.

Raising awareness for Radio Dabanga

The students are focussing on raising awareness, outreach, and generating funds for Radio Dabanga. The station reaches vast audiences in Sudan, internationally and in the Netherlands where it is produced, but few people are aware of the importance of freedom of the press in conflict areas in Sudan. Tobias and Pierre are eager and motivated to take on the challenge to develop strategies and test them.

Reliable news for Sudan

Radio Dabanga is the only radio station that provides independent and reliable news in Sudan. They operate from exile. Not by choice, but out of necessity. The government of Sudan persecutes, intimidates and muzzles independent journalism. That is why Dabanga operates from Amsterdam, supported by Free Press Unlimited. Its ratings are impressive: over 2.3 million people through shortwave radio and about 1 million through satellite television on a daily basis. Social media figures: Facebook reaching 1.730.000 and Twitter 257.000 impressions. WhatsApp connects 25,000 directly and 133,000 indirectly.

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