Running to better life for kids

2015-10-27 06:00
Irafaan “Fanie” Abrahams is off to New York to run a marathon. He is flanked by Sufyaan Oostendorp from Tafelsig (left) and Thakierah Mathews from Bridgetown.  PHOTO:  Rashied Isaacs

Irafaan “Fanie” Abrahams is off to New York to run a marathon. He is flanked by Sufyaan Oostendorp from Tafelsig (left) and Thakierah Mathews from Bridgetown. PHOTO: Rashied Isaacs

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One Mitchell’s Plain man’s journey is set to come full circle in New York this week in his race to raise funds for underprivileged schools across Cape Town.

Irafaan Abrahams, known affectionately as “Fanie”, has been a teacher at Rocklands High School for the last 10 years and lives in Bayview.

Abrahams (45) has been a teacher for 21 years and has also taught in England and elsewhere in the world. He says he enjoys teaching and won’t give it up very easily.

In his project, the “Irafaan Abrahams R1m challenge”, he aims to raise money for charity by running of some of the world’s biggest and most prestigious marathons. The money raised goes towards improving the state of various schools across the city.

The project was born from Abraham’s accidental foray into the world of running.

“I was never an avid runner, but I was challenged on my sports radio show on Voice of the Cape, called “Sports hub”, by the then fledgling running club called Itheko running club. They challenged me to run 5km with them. They only had 25 runners at the time at Rondebosch Common. Being a sports presenter on a radio show, you can’t turn down a challenge,” he says.

He then began to enjoy running so much that he joined the club and thought of ways in which he could make a difference in other people’s lives, starting with the school he found himself at in Rocklands.

“We wanted to complete a building that was incomplete at our school and the idea came about: Why not run a marathon? But just not any marathon and knowing a good friend of mine, Cameron Dugmore, who was the Western Cape minister of education at the time, ran the New York marathon for charity in 2010 and I remember that he too wasn’t an avid runner.”

Dugmore secured an entry into the 2011 race, which immediately took Fanie by surprise as he had never run a half-marathon, let alone a full marathon, in his life. He also faced the challenge of raising funds to support the initiative, having to pay Elana Meyer and her group R30 000 just for his entry into the race.

This was over and above the money needed for flights and accommodation, so funds had to be raised in order for Fanie to go to New York. Out of that the challenge was born.

“We were a group of friends who got together. We first wanted to only help Rocklands High, but we decided that if we can do it for Rocklands, we could do it for other schools as well. That is where the idea came about where we will put special cards with schools’ names on it. schools don’t have to pay for anything and we will try to promote it where the schools could benefit, but we wanted to benefit underprivileged schools.

“The first year we had ten schools come on board, Rylands High to Sea Point, if I remember correctly. It was quite a diverse group of schools and we launched it quite professionally.”

Big five marathonsAbrahams says that upon his return from his first marathon in New York, it was decided that the challenge was going to be a five-year project, aiming to participate in four of the other big marathons (Boston, Chicago, Berlin and London).

“We were going to try and do one per year in order to raise funds for underprivileged schools. Lo and behold after the very first year, the New York marathon, we managed to raise close to R310 000 for underprivileged schools, which was mind-blowing, because we weren’t even thinking of raising anywhere close to that amount of money.”

He says over the course of the next two years, the initiative already surpassed its R1m target, with the fund currently standing at more than R1.5m following his participation in the Boston marathon earlier this year.

“We source our own sponsors and therefore we don’t need to go on a 50/50 or 60/40 relationship with any of the schools. That is what makes this project so successful and unique.”

Abrahams has been awarded the added privilege of being one of the New York marathon’s flag-bearers in this year’s opening ceremony and leaves for the Big Apple on Wednesday, but it is merely the cherry on the cake. He says there is more to come from him in the future.

“We still have one crazy project when we get back from New York, but I cannot let the cat out of the bag just yet. But for next year, things have been going well.

“There have been organisations that have already approached me to see how we can use whatever we have done to take the project forward and raise more funds by using these challenges to make people more aware. So if it has been marathons that we have done, who knows, it could be Mount Kilimanjaro, it could be Base Camp Africa, it could be trekking through the Sahara desert, for all you know. Even a cycle from Cape Town to Cairo – the sky is the limit.

“Educators stay positive and with the support we get to make sure that we can help as many people as we can by putting us to the challenge. Remember, we are no professionals, so we need to work and train hard. As long as people are there to support us all the way, then why not. So we look forward to the next couple of years.”

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