After a tough year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a gym in Victoria is giving back to children and their families in Zambia in the lead up to Christmas.
Despite facing challenges from the ongoing lockdowns, members of Be Strong Fitness Geelong have come together to raise money for a school in Zambia.
The primary school, a run-down concrete classroom in a remote community east of the capital, Lusaka, is close to Be Strong Fitness Geelong co-director Joanne’s heart.
For two years the mother-of-four has been sponsoring, through ChildFund Australia, seven-year-old Flavian, who attends the school.
Through Facebook and emails, Joanne asked gym members to contribute to a group donation. Together, Be Strong Fitness Geelong members raised $550, which will be used to repair and upgrade Flavian’s primary school as well as provide students and teachers with blackboards.
Joanne says the decision to reach out to members and organise a community fundraiser for Flavian and his community was easy. It was a simple way to make a difference in the lives of many children.
“Be Strong Fitness Geelong is a strong family-valued community,” she says. “Flavian and his community have become part of our family community here, and being able to contribute to Flavian and his community is a very rewarding feeling.”
“I was so proud of every member of our gym for the contribution they were able to put forward, especially with the current climate affecting a lot of people financially,” Joanne says.
The Be Strong Fitness Geelong community has long supported children’s charities and causes in Australia and overseas, says Joanne. “We do a few pop-up fundraisers though the fitness industry and help out where we can with local families or community events.
“We have stayed away from the more traditional style gyms and have targeted inclusion and family groups. We reach out to kids and teens to give them a safe, healthy and inviting place to hang out with friends.”
Joanne’s right-hand and the gym’s community fundraiser co-ordinator, Katherine, says she was surprised to see images of Flavian’s school.
“It looked quite run-down,” Katherine says. “It just shows how lucky we are to have what we have here, and made me feel good that we could support Flavian and his community.
“Fundraising has always been a big part of the Be Strong community. We’ve had fundraisers for different charities. I think it’s important. We try to be a very community-based gym and give back and do lots of things locally.
“We’re very lucky, especially this time of the year.”
With the success of the recent online fundraiser, Be Strong Fitness Geelong are hoping to run more fundraising events in the new year. Some ideas on the table include movie and raffle nights.
“I am hoping with less restrictions, we can run an event to help raise funds and make it a little more interactive,” Joanne says.
“Our gym works hard to support everyone in their goals and in life. Everyone working for one cause to help bring some joy to another person and their community builds camaraderie.
“Seeing how the funds can help Flavian’s community has been very overwhelming. Our members are very proud to have the opportunity to help.”
For Miriam’s birthday this year, it wasn’t about the cake or the presents she would get but what she could do for others.
Miriam celebrated her 40th birthday in October by organising an online fundraiser for ChildFund Australia. Instead of buying presents, she called on her family and friends to help children living in poverty around the world.
“I saw these posts on Facebook about a birthday fundraiser, and I thought what a brilliant idea: instead of getting a lot of presents that I don’t necessarily need, let’s see if we can put the money somewhere else,” Miriam says.
Together, Miriam and her family and friends raised $250 for children in need this October. “I found it an easy way to get money where it’s needed.”
The high school teacher from the Northern Territory is no stranger to community fundraising. At the same time last year, Miriam enthusiastically took part in ChildFund’s Choose Your Challenge event.
Miriam had been playing the guitar for about a year when she came across the Challenge as an opportunity to take her skills to the next level. For the month of October last year, Miriam made it her goal to learn to sing and play 20 songs. She took her family and friends along with her on the journey, by recording and sharing short videos of each song on Facebook. She raised more than $800.
“I wanted to get faster at playing the chords,” Miriam says. “I was a bit nervous as I’m not the one to ever video myself and put it out there, but I was very happy with how it went. It was really encouraging to see other participants encouraging one another.”
In addition to rallying her friends and family for community fundraising events, Miriam has been a child sponsor with ChildFund for more than 15 years. In 2014, after several years of sponsorship and correspondence, Miriam visited her sponsor child, Turumpet, in Kenya.
“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “We saw first-hand that the work is really strong there. The visit motivated my ongoing connection with ChildFund.
“Turumpet really warmed to us, especially my husband. There was a connection there. It was lovely to see him as a boy making his way in the world.”
Generations of giving back
Helping people runs through Miriam’s family. She grew up in Zimbabwe, where both of her parents worked in the areas of social justice and community development.
“Giving back was something that I was brought up with,” Miriam says. “There was always a focus on helping disadvantaged people and recognising that we were privileged, and that meant we had an obligation to help those less fortunate than us.”
Today, Miriam lives in the Northern Territory with her husband and three children, and is a teacher at a high school in central Australia. Every now and again, she and her family will return to Zimbabwe to visit loved ones.
She hopes to pass on her values of giving back and charity to her children, as well as her students.
The original idea to sponsor a child came about after looking for new ways to teach students about these values, and about the world around them, she says.
“I thought it would be a good that my class at the time could write letters to Turumpet,” Miriam says. “As a teacher you’re always trying to give new experiences to your students. Rather than just telling them about this other world out there, and how we’re quite blessed and lucky here, I thought they could experience it themselves and hear from somebody who is living in Kenya, and find out more about organisations like ChildFund.”
The correspondence between her class and Turumpet lasted for only three years, but the bond between Miriam and Turumpet continues to this day.
Turumpet is now 22 years old and wants to be a teacher, says Miriam.
“We are lucky and blessed to have the resources to help people who need it,” she says. I am committed to seeing Turumpet launching into the world. After that, I’ll be on the lookout again on where my funds will have the most impact.”