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All for a good cause

silvia@khaleejtimes.com Filed on August 20, 2011
All for a good cause

THERE IS HARDLY anything out there that Abu Dhabi hasn’t experienced yet, but a flea market, or a second hand bazaar, would be a first. In fact, it will be a first, as Sheraton Hotel and Resort here already announced it will host one this September 17 and it will be for a good cause too: raising money to support child education in Pakistan and Romania, part of the Starwood hotels’ annual “Road to Awareness” charity event in collaboration with UNICEF.

Each of the 40 Starwood hotels from Middle East, Africa and Europe participating in this campaign will run its own fundraising project, hoping to all reach at least $250,000 needed for this year’s charities.

“We have chosen a second hand market because it has never been done in Abu Dhabi before and there is a big demand for it,” explained Martina Venus, director of Public Relations at Sheraton Hotel and Resort Abu Dhabi.

“There are many bazaars everywhere in the city, organised by hotels, associations, malls, but they are all first hand, which is retail. A flea market is for private people like you and me.”

“There is a lot of transition in this country, with lots of people moving in and out, and there are plenty of nearly brand new items that get thrown away, which is not just a waste of money, but a recycling issue as well.”

“Besides, this type of market is always a lot of fun because you get to meet other residents, make new friends and find all kind of gems or household items at cheap prices.”

Clothes, books, electronics, toys, shoes, household goods, decorations and even small furniture may be sold at this second hand bazaar, as long as they are in good quality. The flea market will be indoors, in the hotel’s large Arzanah ballroom, where anyone is welcomed to reserve at least one table. One booking, which includes a table and two chairs, is Dh250, with a Dh50 discount for those who book before September 8.

The cash raised from the bookings will go directly to the “Road to Awareness” fund, which will be sent to UNICEF for the two charity projects in Romania and Pakistan.

“Our hotel alone hopes to raise $8,000,” said Thomas van Opstal, general manager of Sheraton Hotel and Resort Abu Dhabi.

“We are proud to once again be part of this great initiative. Our hotel has always been supporting children on a local, regional and international level,” he added. The “Road to Awareness” campaign was started four years ago by Guido De Wilde, senior vice-president and regional director of Starwood hotels and resorts Middle East, of which Sheraton group in part of. It involves a three days cycling over the mountains in Europe, plus the individual projects organised by the participating Starwood hotels.

“You know I’m Belgiun and that is what we do in my country — we cycle. It is our second sport after football,” pointed out De Wilde.

His passion for cycling began “one Sunday afternoon”, when, a few dozen years ago, as a kid, he bought a chewing gum, found a photo of a cyclist inside it, went home and asked his grandfather “who is this”. For many Sundays to come, and anytime he would get a chewing gum with a cyclist photo, De Wilde will learn not only the name of that athlete, but the entire story surround him and the sport he was doing. Thus, he grew to love cycling and to follow the sport to this day.

“In July 2007 I was in Fountaibleau, in France with a several of my colleagues. The Tour de France was going on at that time and it was broadcasted on TV. All my colleagues were talking to each other, but I was watching the Tour,” remembers De Wilde.

“Several people in our division team like cycling and one of them said ‘why don’t we do some cycling’ and I replied ‘why not do it for charity! Let’s target next year with a divisional executive team to set an example’”. The idea turned into action and in 2008 De Wilde and his team of 12 Starwood executives cycled 450 kilometres in three days, over some of the tough mountain peaks in France, raising an unexpected $300,000, which went for a charity campaign in Mozambique.

“Then 2009 came and the financial crises hit, so we wondered if people are going to be as generous,” said De Wilde.

“I thought the only way to raise serious money was to make a serious tour, so I designed a three-day programme in the French Pyrenees, legendary for the cycling challenges they pose. We raised $250,000, which went to support the street children in Egypt.”

In 2010, the Starwood team went for another three-day cycling tour, this time in the Dolomites mountains of Italy, whose highest peak reaches 3343 metres and together with all other Starwood hotels contribution, it raised a record $ 427,000, used by UNICEF to build schools in Africa.

This August 22-24, the 12 cyclists and 18 supporting team will return to the French Alps, for a 300 kilometres tour, which include some of the most mythical climbs in the history of the Tour de France.

“We will have over 100 kilometres climbing,” pointed out De Wilde, whose personal cycling record is 1500 kilometres.

Since the first ride in 2007, rules have changed and anyone now from Starwood is welcomed to participate, from a bellboy to an executive. The only requirement is to be super fit for the challenge, which means year-round training and carefully watched diet.

“There is no competitiveness within the group, as we all do this for the same common charity,” said De Wilde.

Each year, UNICEF presents Starwood with a list of charities to choose from and once all money is collected, it is sent to the organisation’s headquarters to be used specifically for the chosen charity projects.

“There is poverty in Europe as well, and we did think we should have a charity project in an European country, so when we saw Romania on the UNICEF list this year we decided to go for it, as well as helping the schools in Pakistan,” he explained.

Currently, there are 400,000 children in the remote rural areas of Romania who do not go to school and with the cash raised from the “Road to Awareness” programme Starwood hopes to buy basic equipment and learning materials such as desks, computers, sport equipment for 50 schools in the poorest communities of this country.

In Pakistan, the aiding project involves eight schools in the Sindh province that will directly benefit 1600 children. Apart from school materials, there will also be training for teachers and a Back to School mass campaign using radio, posters and street theatre to communicate the importance of education. At least $250,000 is needed for this campaign and the money raised will be split equally between the two projects.

“We have chosen UNICEF because it is easier and less chaotic to work with one organisation rather than several, and we have been in partnership with it since 1995,” pointed out De Wilde.

Indeed, for the past 16 years Starwood hotels have been running the Check Out for Children campaign, which is asking every guest to add $ 1 to their hotel check out bill, the money being sent to UNICEF. So far, over $25 million have been raised for this international non-government organisation that helps children in need worldwide. —silvia@khaleejtimes.com

Silvia Radan

I'm a senior journalist with 22 years experience in all forms of mass media. Originally from Romania, I lived and work in Bosnia, Uzbekistan, England and, for the past 10 years, in UAE. I specialize in art, culture, traditions, heritage, but also environment and the hospitality industry. I'm passionate about jazz and world music, cinema, mythology and offroading - I'm a marshal with one of UAE's offroading clubs!


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