THEIR blood, sweat and tears helped to raise a record-breaking £380,000 at Oxfam’s Trailtrekker event last year.
But the hardships the intrepid hikers endured on the 100km trek through the Yorkshire Dales were trifling compared with the daily suffering of those their sponsorship money will help across the globe.
Cash raised by annual event goes into the charity’s general funds, a flexible cash pot which enables it to respond quickly to emergencies as soon as they arise.
Niki Barton, Oxfam’s emergencies marketing manager, said: “The Trailtrekker money is a really valuable contribution to that fund. On the first day an emergency happens, we haven’t got an appeal set up and haven’t had any donations from the public yet. Having a catastrophe fund means we can respond straight away.”
Some of last year’s cash may have found its way to East Africa, where a food crisis was declared last July. It will also have helped people in need in lesser-known emergency zones worldwide.
“At any one time, Oxfam is responding to anything from 25 to 30 emergencies around the world,” Mrs Barton said. “Most of those aren’t in the news, and we can’t have an appeal for them all.
“Currently there’s a very severe food crisis in Yemen, which not a lot of people know about. Having these unrestricted funds means we are able to respond to a situation where there is huge human need but no media attention.”
A food crisis can be caused by a number of factors. Sometimes, food may be scarce due to drought, but it can also be that food prices have become unaffordable due to rising fuel costs or conflict.
Mrs Barton said: “In that case we’ll give people vouchers or cash so they are able to buy food. The advantage of that is that keeps local markets going. If we were to provide food actually that might undermine them. We are trying to keep as much normality going as we can.”
Most of the charity’s work is focused around water and sanitation, however.
The charity knows only too well that those who are weak through a lack of food are also more vulnerable to disease.
And in areas where the water table may be low, communities have less water to go around meaning livestock, other animals and humans will often be sharing the same source of supply, increasing the risk of disease.
“We might do work like rebuild boreholes to bring ones that don’t work back into use again and promotion work around how to manage water resources,” Mrs Barton said. “It’s about providing water and also education about how to use and manage it in a safe way.”
Oxfam also uses its general funds to develop and test new projects such as solar-powered water pumps in Turkana, Kenya.
Mrs Barton said: “Remote communities often run out of fuel to keep generators going, which are needed to keep the water pumping. Fuel is increasingly expensive, and during a crisis when the boreholes are most needed, families can’t afford it. Solar power is a free, efficient alternative.”
Oxfam is also piloting a new BluePump water pump, specially designed to withstand heavy use in very arid regions. Normal pumps can break down through over-use and spare parts are hard to find in the remote communities where they are needed.
Mrs Barton said: “Our unrestricted funds give us leverage so we can try new things and if it’s successful we can use that to get more money from other places.”
It is hoped this year’s event will smash the total raised by the 173 teams who took part in Trailtrekker 2011. More people have signed up than ever, with 220 teams of four - including 84 from Yorkshire - ready to take their marks in Skipton on Saturday May 26. International teams are flying in from as far as Australia, Belgium and Germany.
The tireless fundraisers will aim to complete the full course in 30 hours, or can opt for bronze and silver walks of 40km or 65km.
Entries for the event are now closed, but organisers are still keen to recruit more volunteers to help man it. Anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.oxfam.org.uk/trailtrekker for more information.