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Since lycra-clad competitors set off across the Gobi Desert as part of the inaugural race in the 4 Deserts Race Series 14 years ago, RacingThePlanet and the 4 Deserts have donated over 1 million dollars to various charities.
Operation Smile missions have been sponsored, funds have been raised for the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 and equipment donated to Ecuador and Nepal during times of crises. A charitable approach is at the heart of RacingThePlanet’s core vision, says 4 Deserts and RacingThePlanet Founder Mary Gadams.
In China donations were primarily in the form of sporting equipment, computer centres, many thousands of books to schools along the course of the Gobi March and most recently in the form of a scholarship programme for girls from minority cultures to attend higher education. This has all been done through a partnership with the Esquel-Y.L. Yang Education Foundation. In addition, Mary Gadams, explains that children—and education in particular—have always been a major focus of the 4 Desert Race Series when it comes to working with charities.
Now in it’s fourth year, it was in 2013 that the Esquel-RacingThePlanet Scholarship Programme was launched. Gadams says that the focus of the scholarship programme is on talented young women in the Xinjiang region. “The most meaningful part of the Esquel-RacingThePlanet Scholarship Programme is the empowerment that it gives to bright and ambitious young women who could have a major positive impact on Xinjiang and China in the future," she says.
The young women who are part of the scholarship programme have received financial support for their high school and university education.
In 2016, 20 year old Jiader Tang Jia Le Er Ke, a young woman completing her studies with the support of the scholarship programme, joined the Gobi March as a volunteer. Her confidence in a very unique environment shone through any logistical challenges as she embraced the experience and challenges. Jiadier is currently studying English and arts at Xinjiiang Vocational University.
Jupaer Tuhaerbaike, an 18-year-old Kazak woman, has also benefited from the scholarship fund. “There are 5 people in my family,” Jupaer tells us. “I am the first child of the family, and I have a younger brother and sister. There are only 5 mu* of land and the whole family depends on this land, but due to unstable weather sometimes the harvest is not enough to support three kids to study.”
She remembers coming to the Gobi March 2013 starting ceremony, after being told she was being given the scholarship, and meeting Mary Gadams: “I was a bit nervous and did not say too much of my feeling of great thankfulness,” she remembers. “I kept saying a few words like “thank you very much”—without your help, I would be the first kid in my family to have to leave school.”
Another young woman is 19-year-old Azi whose family is of Uyghur ethnicity. “There are five people in my family: father, mother and two elder sisters,” Azi explains. “My mother’s legs cannot stand up and she has to always sleep on the bed. My two sisters gave up their studies to stay at home to take care of my mother, so I am the only child still studying.”
It soon becomes evident that Azi carries the entire family’s hopes for the future on her young shoulders. But she has discovered running—and she says that her love for running and the inspiration from the kindness she has received from 4 Deserts competitors has brought a new sense of freedom and courage into her life.
“My wish is that when I grow up I will be able to bear the family burden,” she says. “And I want to express my deepest gratitude for all your help in my studying life, because you have made my study dream possible; you have made my running dream come true; you have made my family proud of me; you have made me feel the future full of hope and the responsibility of rewarding my family. All you warm-hearted people have made me learn that I must be strong inside and be brave when facing the future.”
Each of the young women who are enrolled in the Esquel-RacingThePlanet scholarship programme have successfully completed their exams to reach the next level of education at the college level, and several have already started their advanced studies. To have such a strong group of studious young women who are considered minorities in the Xinjiang Province is unusual. RacingThePlanet and 4 Deserts is pleased to be able to work with Esquel to promote female empowerment in the region.
* Mu - customary and traditional units of measure used in China literally translated as “market system”
Esquel-RacingThePlanet Scholarship Progamme
Since 2003, Esquel Group has supported this race every year by sending a team of the company’s best runners to join the race. Esquel’s charity arm – Esquel-Y.L. Yang Education Foundation has also helped RacingThePlanet to distribute donations of computers and books to schools along the race trail each year.
In 2013, RacingThePlanet made a donation to the Esquel Foundation and the two together set up a scholarship programme for high school students in rural Xinjiang who excel in studies and sports but have financial needs. In 2014, three of the scholarship recipients attended the Gobi March 2014 opening at the start line. These students have since gone on to study at university.
Founded in 1978, Esquel Group is one of the world’s leading textile and apparel manufacturers with state-of-the-art facilities in China, Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Esquel aspires to be the leader in innovation and environmental protection, and to contribute positively to communities where the company operates, while growing a sustainable business. Esquel’s ginning mills in Xinjiang supplies over 10,000 tons of premium grade Extra-Long-Staple cotton annually. The company’s investments have modernized local farming practices for better yield and quality. It has developed expertise on water conservation and responsible use of chemicals, plastics and pesticides.