Sports are increasingly becoming a tool to promote charities and social development within the Balkans and Turkey.
By Menekse Tokyay for SETimes in Istanbul -- 28/11/12
Members of Adim Adim push a wheelchair-bound participant during the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon. [Murat Vanli]
The power of sports to support the socio-economic disadvantaged in the Balkans and Turkey is taking root at the grassroots level. Professional and amateur athletes, sports clubs and groups are working with local civil society groups to promote charity and social welfare.
The beneficiaries of such charity activities range from the handicapped to hospitals and students.
Adim Adim, or Step-by-Step, is a volunteer-based social initiative in Turkey that encourages people to do sports such as running, trekking, swimming and cycling to raise funds for social causes. The initiative currently supports the Bugday Association to develop organic farming, Educational Volunteers Foundation of Turkey, Turkish Spinal Injury Association, and the Community Volunteers Foundation. To date, Adim Adim has collected 2.5 million TL (1.1 million euro).
Yonca Tokbas, a member of Adim Adim, first became aware of the organisation's activities four years ago as she ran across the Bosphorus Bridge during the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon.
"They were trying to raise awareness for the handicapped by pushing the wheelchairs of our handicapped friends. I was so impressed and started to run not only for myself, but also for the benefit of other people," Tokbas said. "I'm running, I'm acting, and I'm making you act through your charity."
Another group involved in social initiatives is the Shaman Dance Theatre, which combines folk dances and music of Anatolia. At a recent event, the group helped the Handicapped Foundation of Turkey raise money to construct an education centre for 8,000 disabled people. The group will perform on December 18th in Istanbul to benefit the Educational Volunteers Foundation of Turkey.
Murat Uygun, the group's art director, says that sports have an instrumental role in creating societal awareness and solidarity with the needy.
"The Shaman group has integrated various dance routines into our performances to serve an ideal. This has not been tried much in Turkey up to today. By turning our activities into charity drives we show the wider public that we care about disadvantaged groups. As we help the needy, especially in such an innovative way, I can see how powerful sports are," Uygun told SETimes.
Countries in the Balkans have also witnessed a rise in similar initiatives using sports for charity drives and social activities.
On November 21st, Muslim imams and Catholic priests organised a football match to raise funds for a new kindergarten in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The initiative collected 1 euro from each of the more than 4,000 people who attended the game.
Novi Pazar, the biggest city in Serbia's largely Muslim populated Sandzak region, started building a sports complex a decade ago, but couldn’t finish it due to lack of money. The municipality of Pendik in Istanbul, which is the sister city of Novi Pazar, helped finish the facility, which houses sports associations and clubs. The sports groups carry out various charity activities to support disadvantageous groups in the society.
Sadetin Mujezinovic, a member of the Novi Pazar city council, told SETimes that sports provide an avenue to promote charities.
"In such moments of economic crisis, there are a lot of people who need help and this is good way to do that by joint sportive efforts," he said.
Meanwhile, in Romania, the Bucharest-based Children's Heart Association has been running several campaigns to raise funds for hospitals. Enona Chiriac of the Children's Heart Association told SETimes one of the most successful campaigns was conducted by Paul Dicu, who ran hundreds of miles in the heat and sands of the Sahara.
"He wanted to run for our association during Marathon des Sables 2012, which is one of the toughest competitions around the world. You have to run for 250 kilometres, pass through the deserts for seven days, carrying a backpack with all necessary food for a week, survival kit and necessary clothes," Chiriac said.
The association's campaign, "Following the Steps of Paul," brought together Romanians who encouraged Dicu and provided donations to the association. In the end, donations in support of Dicu from Romanians and ING Life were used to buy supplies, equipment and educate medical personnel for the association's cardiac department.
SETimes correspondents Gabriel Petrescu in Bucharest and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.