Transforming the lives of Tanzanian and Palestinian schoolchildren
It’s hard to know which part of our goal is more daunting: the drive to raise £15,000 in a few weeks, or completing our three-mountain, 24 mile walk in just 12 hours to encourage the maximum number of donations.
We’re an averagely-fit bunch of office workers of varying ages who might hit the gym once or twice a week, cycle to work, or do the odd weekend stroll in between keeping English UK running for our members in the English Language Teaching industry.
Athletes we are not.
So persuading the team to take part in a physically demanding challenge to raise money for the office charity must surely be a miracle in itself!
So why are we putting ourselves through this? And not for the first time?
We want to remember our former boss Eddie Byers, a man who enthused English UK and the ELT industry with his drive and energy before his life was cut short by a heart attack.
And having set up an education fund in his name, we want to carry on helping it to transform people’s lives. The funds we raise support refugees and asylum seekers in the UK or schoolchildren in Palestine and Tanzania. For each and every one of these people, receiving help to learn English can make an enormous difference to their life-chances and those in their wider community.
The charities we're helping
The Eddie Byers Fund is open to UK-registered charities which can apply for funding of up to £2,500 for projects which will transform lives through learning English.
In its first year, the Fund supported around 350 refugees and asylum seekers to learn English in the UK, helping them to integrate into the community, build lives here and seek work.
The latest set of awards will support up to 3,500 schoolchildren in Tanzania and Palestine, as well as UK asylum-seekers and refugees in Liverpool, Staffordshire and Ipswich. Every blister we get has the potential to transform the life of some of the world’s most disadvantaged people.
In 2018, there are five awardees:
- The Tanzania Development Trust, which will deliver a month-long beginners’ English course and a continuing language club for up to 800 children for starting secondary school in rural Tanzania. Completing secondary school is the only route out of extreme poverty for the children, but classes are taught in English, which means they are doomed to fail unless they learn some of the language at the start.
- The Hands Up project, which will train 125 teachers of English in schools in Gaza and the West Bank to run drama clubs to improve the English of up to 2,500 Palestinian schoolchildren.
- Asylum Link Merseyside, which will run a new Film and Conversation club and develop its outreach Walk and Talk programme.
- ASHA in North Staffordshire, to train volunteers to teach English to beginners who cannot access any other courses, and also to train other volunteers to teach this group of learners.
- Oasis in Ipswich, which gets a £500 grant for textbooks.
Working at the heart of the ELT industry, we know about its power to transform lives. We see people travelling thousands of miles to learn or improve their English to complete high school, attend university, apply for a postgraduate course or improve their career prospects.
It feels right to extend what our industry does every day to those who cannot afford to pay for it, and we know that’s what many of our member centres who have donated to the Fund in the past believe, too.
Please help us reach our £15,000 fundraising target and give the benefits of ELT to those who cannot afford to fund it themselves. Every penny helps (but pounds are even better!)
And now, read on to learn whether or not we managed to scale Yorkshire's Three Peaks this year...
Our Miracle Fruit
In 2017, most of the office took part in our first Three Peaks Challenge (scaling the UK's three highest mountains Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours), with a hard core group doing all three mountains and most others doing two or three.
This year, we chose to conquer a different set of mountains, the Yorkshire Three Peaks, which challenges hikers to finish in 12 hours.
Perhaps the surprise this time around was that more people wanted to do the whole thing, even though the Yorkshire Three Peaks is said to be more strenuous than the national version. Why? Because you don’t get down to sit down and rest between mountains; instead, you keep on walking.
Eleven of us signed up, plus Mark Rendell, deputy chair of English UK’s Board of Trustees. Sam, Eddie’s widow, planned to share the final peak with us and joined us in our accommodation – a very basic bunkhouse where we shared a dormitory.
It was an extraordinary, unforgettable adventure. Setting off in the dark, by just 9:15 am (bang on schedule) we were all on top of the first mountain, Ingleborough, with the sun up and beautiful views.
Getting down from Ingleborough was rather more challenging, thanks to an incredibly steep and rocky path which needed hands as well as feet. On the upside, there were amazing views across the plateau to Whernside, our next summit. Another upside was our first taste of the wide, flat paths and steps on much of the Three Peaks route, created (according to our guide, Chris) from the remains of Yorkshire’s industrial buildings.
After a quick refuelling at our support vehicle, we started moving towards peak two – where the more challenging ascent included a long run of almost vertical steps which led us into swirling, wet mist. Time for waterproofs, and to wave goodbye to any hope of views from the top.
Arriving at the summit for our 12.30 pm deadline, we took a quick photo and were off again down a long, long ridge, over the railway line and past the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct before once again catching up with the support car for lunch.
Damon, the expedition leader, looked at his watch. “You need to leave again in 5 minutes to stay on schedule,” he said. Since several walkers were still coming in and needed a bit of a rest, that wasn’t going to happen. So, sandwiches rammed in and a photo taken, we were instructed to walk up the road as fast as we could to make up time.
Visible – a long way in the distance – was Pen-y-Ghent, the final peak.
The next couple of hours were frustrating, as it didn’t seem to get much closer – and when it did, it was over several more ridges which were starting to take their toll on the legs and lungs of some of the party. It began to look as though we might not make our 12-hour target, but we were determined to give it our best shot. More Ibuprofen was swallowed, along with yet more snacks.
A signpost appeared, offering the direct route back to our end point. Did anyone want to take it? Sam Byers, who had only decided to join us for all three peaks at the last moment, shook her head. “I’ve come this far – I’m finishing this,” she said. We cheered, and trudged on.
“I’ve come this far – I’m finishing this!"
The final ascent was tough, and we were beginning to doubt whether we could make our 7:00 pm deadline at the village pub.
But as more and more walkers appeared out of the mist to claim the final peak within the expedition leader’s timings, hopes were raised. Could we do it? The pace quickened, as we picked our way – often on backsides – down wet and slippery rocks before making it to the grassy slope and out of the mist.
Watches and phones were checked, and we looked for that extra bit of energy to go faster and beat the deadline. Suddenly, the lights from the pub were there, with 20 minutes to go. A few minutes later, walker after walker appeared, cheered and clapped on by colleagues chanting: “We’ve done it!”
By 6:48 pm, 12 minutes early, everyone had completed the challenge, and was ready for a final picture with our sponsor banner before a shower, food and the bottles of prosecco Sam had tucked away in the fridge earlier that morning.
What a team!
What made it such a special day? Determination and teamwork. Everyone supported everyone, sharing positivity, snacks and ibuprofen when the going got tough.
And how many groups of colleagues could spend two nights listening to each other snore in a basic bunkhouse, with creaky bunks, squeaky floors and plastic mattresses, and not only remain cheerful but start planning the next challenge in the minibus back to London?
Thank you to everyone for all of your support, and a big shout-out to my fellow English UK walkers: Roz McGill, Annie Wright, Tom Weatherley, Helen Kind, Louise Gow, James Broadway, Jodie Gray, Nuria Felip Puignou, Alice Marcolin and Huan Japes, with Mark Rendell, deputy chair of the English UK Board of Trustees, and Sam Byers, Eddie’s widow.