Hurdling Aid for India

Australian ultramarathon runner Samantha Gash partners with World Vision to raise funds for COVID-stricken India.

This interview is all about attitude with a difference. Meet World Vision Goodwill Ambassador and professional endurance athlete Samantha Gash, who will lead a global relief run to raise life-saving funds for the people of India devastated by COVID-19. She’s not unfamiliar with this territory as running for a cause has been her sole purpose.

Talking to us over the phone from the Dandenong Ranges of Melbourne she halted her 10km run to tell us about the Relief Run which will be held over the weekend of June 11,12, and 13. It will be a virtual run allowing participants all over the world to run (or walk) 5km, 10km or half a marathon at a location and time that suits them. Groups across schools, corporates and communities are encouraged to create an event and support the cause.

Asking the running star what it means to run for a cause? Samantha cannot put this in much simpler terms. For her running on a personal level is transformative connecting her with the present. It’s an opportunity to be reflective without criticism. India being very close to her heart she has visited India six times over the decade and her very good friend Ashwin Rajan (Head of Commercial Australia & APAC). Both educating each other on India to galvanize her following and her beasty fierce crazy spirit for adventure. Most recently she was there with her 6-month old her very good friend Nick Davidson connected her with Milind Soman speaking about the running community.

Samantha’s connection to India is personal. In 2016 she completed Run India; an incredible 3200 km run from the west to east of India to raise funds for World Vision education initiatives.

During her three-month journey, she’s fallen in love with the beautiful landscape, visited some of the country’s most poverty-stricken corners, drank masala chai in terracotta cups with some fifty odd village men in silence and her curiosity of the matriarch community forged these lasting relationships with the families and children she met.

That same year Samantha was also selected as a delegate for the 2016 Australia India Youth Dialogue which brought together young Australian and Indian leaders in a forum held in India to discuss various issues significant to the Australia-India relationship.

A social entrepreneur and former Survivor contestant is the co-creator of Relief Run, which last year raised more than $1 million in support of Australian bushfire relief efforts. When the whole world got behind Australia, she thinks it’s now time for Australia to lend a helping hand to India. She quotes “When Australia was devastated by bushfires in 2020, the global community came to our aid. Now it’s time for us to pay it forward.”

The scale of the tragedy in India is heart-breaking, but she’s confident the generosity of runners from around the world can make a difference. Samantha thinks every one of us has some connection to India and is devastated by the ever-increasing scale of loss. It is heart-wrenching to see the endless suffering of individuals and vulnerable communities that are now at even greater risk. Samantha connecting with Ashwin once again now she wants the community to get behind this relief run for India.

All funds raised will go towards the World Vision’s COVID-19 India crisis appeal, which responds to life-saving needs for equipment and supplies including beds, oxygen concentrators, food vouchers and tents for temporary COVID-19 care centres. It is also about the children who are now orphans and have been deeply impacted by this pandemic, shortage of food and clean drinking water has also become a major concern in the rural areas. With Australians supporting more than 23,000 children in India and their communities through sponsorship programs, World Vision Australian Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Wordsworth, said he has faith in the kindness of Aussies, and encouraged them to sign up for this year’s Relief Run. “We are very grateful for Samantha’s support, and her willingness to use her platform again and again to help others. I implore you to register for this run so we can help the people of India work towards an end to this grave humanitarian crisis.”

With India reporting a record number of daily deaths this week, and authorities fearing the worst is still to come, the fundraiser cannot come soon enough, said Samantha.

World Vision is working in some of India’s worst-hit areas and has significantly boosted its response due to urgent and escalating life-saving needs.

The COVID-19 death toll in India is now more than 300,000, yet experts fear the official number is a gross underestimate.

Relief Run is partnering with life, health and wellbeing insurer AIA Australia to help stage the fundraiser in cities and towns across the nation. After seeing the profound impact Samantha made with the bushfire Relief Run last year, AIA Australia and New Zealand Chief Executive and Managing Director, Damien Mu, said he was proud to be involved in this effort for India.

“When Samantha brought the idea of the Relief Run to us, there was no question in my mind that AIA should be involved – this was simply about doing the right thing,” he said.

“We have colleagues, friends and family directly impacted by the crisis in India, and I believe it is our responsibility to make a difference however we can.”

AIA Australia has the support of all their AIA Vitality ambassadors across Australia and New Zealand to spread the event and take part in runs over the June 11 – 13 weekend. Including Bec Judd, Sylvia Jeffreys, Laura Henshaw, Steve Hooker, Anabelle Smith, Alisa Camplin and Marika Day, and New Zealand AIA Vitality Ambassadors Dame Valerie Adams and Ian Jones.
AIA’s Global Ambassador, David Beckham, will also be encouraging people across Asia to participate. He said:
“The situation across India has been heart-breaking to see. Whatever we can do to help in any way is really important and I’m proud to support Samantha and this great initiative to raise vital funds and awareness for the relief efforts across India,”

Lastly, Samantha’s message to Australia and the Indian community here in Australia is direct and true that the pandemic is here to stay awhile and as global citizens who typically have enjoyed the privileges of travelling around the world there comes a responsibility or duty of care for other people. She finds it challenging where one community is facing tremendous hardships and the other community is tipping the iceberg and right now India needs our support. Working with World Vision, small things do count and money do go a long way with them. If one person in every household signs up with World Vision it does add up. The aim is to raise a quarter of a million dollars, and so far, they have raised hundred and seventy thousand dollars. They have partnered with ANZ, and with every registration they are matching it.

What can I say for star runner Samantha – “Just keep doing what you believe in and things will fall into place.’’

To find out how you can participate go to www.reliefrun.com.au or to donate to World Vision’s COVID-19 India crisis appeal go to www.worldvision.com.au/end-corona-for-India.

(By Nandita Chakraborty with inputs from the media release)