And they're off: The Human Race comes to Geneva

News Stories, 29 August 2008

© UNHCR/R.DeLa Cruz
A core group of about 20 runners took part in the 10-kilometre race.

GENEVA, August 29 (UNHCR) Almost 100 UNHCR staff members and supporters sacrificed their lunch on Friday and pounded the streets of Geneva to raise money for the education of refugee children in Chad.

The UN refugee agency organized a 10-kilometre run and a 5-km walk along Lake Geneva and around the leafy UN quarter of the Swiss city as part of the Nike+ Human Race, a fund-raising event that will gather an estimated 1 million runners in 25 cities around the world on Sunday and raise at least US$500,000 for UNHCR.

With five minutes to go before the scheduled start, the Geneva event looked as though it was doomed to failure with just a handful of people present in their running shorts and UNHCR tee-shirts. But then a flood of amateur athletes of all sizes, ages and colours arrived in front of the UNHCR headquarters for the start.

UNHCR Director of External Relations Nick Van Praag, who will be in London on Sunday to take part in the Human Race, welcomed staff and runners from sister agencies and embassies.

"All the miles that you walk or you run will be registered and will count towards the resources that UNHCR will gain from this effort," Van Praag said. "We've already been guaranteed half-a-million dollars [by Human Race organizer and UNHCR corporate partner, Nike] for our work. The more you walk, the more you do, the more we'll get."

Shortly afterwards, the Geneva race began under a light breeze and clear skies. A keen core of about 20 runners set off at a cracking pace, keen to burn off some calories over their 10-km route, while the rest strolled downhill towards the lake at a leisurely pace. An hour later and they were back in front of UNHCR, a good deed for the day done.

"It was a way to connect Geneva with the main Human Race and the cities where it is being held," said participant Carla Thachuk, a fund-raiser for UNHCR. "Running 10 kilometres is nothing compared to the difficulties that the refugees in Chad face on a daily basis," she added.

Van Praag said the money that the agency receives from the Geneva event and the Human Race proper will be used to equip schools and pay the salaries of more than 500 teachers in camps housing almost 250,000 Sudanese refugees in east Chad. This programme is part of UNHCR's ninemillion.org campaign to provide education and sports opportunities for all refugee children.

UNHCR, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Lance Armstrong Foundation will be the three beneficiaries of funds raised by the Human Race. Nike pledged to give each of the three beneficiaries US$500,000. Runners will specify which of the three organizations they wish to support and extra monies raised will be allocated based on this.

The UN refugee agency will have runners in all corners of the world helping to elevate the cause of refugee children on Sunday. From sole UNHCR staff members running in Dakar, Senegal and Tbilisi, Georgia, to the 3,000 refugees and host community members running in Nepal.