Donation to Vanuatu - Jul-2005
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Having cajoled everyone I knew, and many others I didn't, into giving me their old running shoes, I spent a frantic few hours tieing their laces together so they wouldn't come apart and working out how to pack them - I decided in the end on the biggest "Chinese Laundry" type bags I could find. I had about 6 in all holding about 16 or 17 pairs each. Amazingly it totalled exactly 100 pairs, leaving none at home, much to my wife's pleasure.
Unfortunately I couldn't drive all the way to the airport as the wife needed to pick up the car after work (a complicated kid and car juggling exercise) and so I drove the car to the station and grabbed a taxi as I was running late (as always!)
At the airport, the taxi drive took pity on me and helped me load the bags on a trolley - the pile was about 7 feet high when balanced precariously. Everyone in the check in queue hated me on sight I am sure. I got a bit nervous when they were all weighed at 85kg and was asked if that was excess baggage. I explained that their should be a note against my name asking for leniency (this was arranged by Allan and Air Vanauatu). Luckily all was in order and I didn't have to pay any extra.
I next saw my baggage and shoes once we'd landed in Vanuatu. By a strange twist of fate, I was sitting next to fellow runner Jessica Jones who took pity on me when I was retrieving my baggage from the carousel. She took one trolley of shoes through and I took the second. We were stopped at customs and the bags were seized as we had no official paperwork. They claimed we could be importing the shoes to sell, which wasn't true but they had a point nevertheless. Discussions continued and supervisors were spoken to. Allan Kalfabun was pulled in from outside to help resolve the matter - it was past midnight and we wanted to wrap the situation up for the night. Allan would get paperwork from the Vanuatu Tourist Commission saying that the shoes were to be donated to runners as part of the Round Island Relay (the truth). It was Wednesday night and this would happen on Friday as Thursday was National Independence Day (a public holiday). He would also collect the shoes and transport them to the race finish.
On Friday, Allan picked up me, Jessica, Heather & Stephanie the only 4 people that actually made it to Vanuatu for the relay - we would form Team CoolRunning. To make up the numbers, Allan knew a small village that had 20 people training for their team of 10 leaving 10 disappointed runners. The remainder were recruited to join us. They all ran in barefeet and so Allan thought it would be good gesture to donate some shoes to each of them.
We met them in the garden of one of the team, and they were able to choose a pair or so of shoes each. And were donated a CoolRunning Tshirt and Cap. They were pretty impressed by this.
I won't bore with the details of race day, however it was a truly awesome experience and we finished in approx 20th place from 36 teams in total.
Allan had decided that as many of the High School teams camefrom outlying islands of Vanuatu and were even poorer than the teams from the main island of Efate, that we should donate the rest of the shoes to the top 3 High School teams.
The end of the relay race was incredible - its a bit like the Vanuatu version of the City to Surf but finishing in the middle of the Easter Show stadium - its a public holiday and the place is jammed full of people listening to bands, buying food and celebrating (lots of drinking going on also). For the runners, it had a been a very hot day, and very long - we had been picked up at 4am that morning. After we had finished we had to wait for the presentations to start, and find a slot on the stage between Pacific Islander dancing girls and all sorts of other shows.
Finally our turn was on and the stage was jammed with runners, visiting French Naval staff (part of the few New Caledonian teams), Miss Vanuatu and other visiting dignatories.
Finally the shoes were presented. Although we distributed 100 pairs of running shoes this year, I suspect if we had 500+ pairs, we would have been able to distribute them within 10 minutes.