May 6th, 2019 Crowd-hoping thanks to sports
In 2016, I led a survey to evaluate youth drug consumption in the Medina, the historical urban quarter of Tunis. The survey focuses on students aged 15-19, from nine high schools. The results of the survey showed a rate of 11% in drugs consumption among Medina’s youth. The drugs consumed are mainly Zatla (cannabis) and the percentage is lower than worldwide average. However, what struck me as truly alarming, at the occasion of the survey, was to realise that this consumption starts when these youth are trying to fill the ‘nothingness’ in their lives between home and school. More than quarter of the young people interviewed (26%) dream of leaving the country with or without a visa. We are, here, in front of a young population living in a neighbourhood at the heart of the capital city, where there are most opportunities in the country!
In the same year, my brother survived the Marathon des Sables: A 250 km ultra-trail in the south of Morocco. I thought entrepreneurship was hard until I lived through what Amir had to go through for 5 days of tremendous self-discipline, self-motivation, unimaginable trust in one’s own potentials, and an unconceivable determination as he kept running in the lonely lifeless desert.
I imagined the tormenting life-menacing experience would end Amir’s extreme need to test his physical and mental limits; but it did not. He now wants to spread the ultra-trail fever in Tunisia, which is not even on the worldwide ultra-trail map. ‘Can people run 100 km in the desert in one day?’ I asked. I was stunned at his cool attitude as he proposed a 100 km one-stage desert race in Tunisia. ‘God gave us this body to enable us to run away from a lion’ was his answer. I was not very convinced about the lion hunt. But should we ever underestimate our human natural instincts?
We named it UltraMirage. We started calling friends who have our ‘Let’s do it’ attitude to become part of the organization committee. Since the race was to take place in the Tunisian desert, there was one little problem left: the Tunisian deserts bordering Algeria were –at that time- marked in ‘red’ on all travel security maps, which means ‘Don’t travel there’!
Amir chose the southern city of Tozeur to be the location of UltraMirage. The city offers an outstanding diversity of landscapes: flat desert, oasis, dunes, palm tree farms, salt-lakes and… a Star Wars filming site! Tozeur had been an important tourism hub between 2000 and 2010. But since the 2011 uprisings, and the 2015 attacks, a number of hotels closed as tourism suffered in the country. Many young people from Tozeur were pushed to move to the coastal regions for jobs. In the meantime, jobs in the country became scarce and the cost of living became more expensive because of the rising inflation. For those who did not move, there was either the informal trade or ‘Zatla’.
To make the race secure, we needed to join forces with more friends. UltraMirage story/dream were shared with the Governor of Tozeur, the Minister of youth and sports, the hospital of Tozeur, the national guards, security forces and with youth civil society actors and activists. They all became part of the team!
Once we developed our network of partners, we needed to start planning for the big event. Therefore, we needed to make even more friends: We started hunting for more ‘Let’s do it spirit’ people: hotel owners, Tozeur logistics coordinators, desert tracking masters. That was still not enough friends: We needed volunteers to install checkpoints along the track where runners could stop and get assistance. We started a ‘crowd-hoping’ campaign: It was about hunting positive young people to join our hope in making a positive story for Tozeur, to start a movement of Tunisian determined runners, to return to the desert its magical mirages!
The preparations for our ultra-trail were almost complete. Our online community started to grow, but we still needed one little thing to make it perfect… sponsors! Would it be possible to find believers in our big vision and make the crowd-hoping for UltraMirage picture ‘perfect’? Yes, it was. A major national insurance company saw the vision right away. This gave us more determination to bring into the stunning adventure we were preparing in our magical deserts.
We were ready. All we needed was runners!
In its first edition, UltraMirage 2017 counted 60 runners from 12 different countries and about 100 volunteers. In 2018, 130 runners from 23 different countries and about 150 volunteers joined the race. The event had press coverage in eight different languages sharing our hope and accomplishment with the world.
Some of the runners of the 2018 race were volunteers at the previous race. Meeting the ultra-runners of 2017, getting to know them at check-points inspired them to take the challenge themselves. Some had joined the community of volunteers only because they saw a Facebook form to be filled. And they filled it, as they would usually do when in the hunt for positive opportunities. Once there, they found themselves responsible of clearing the thirst of ultra-runners, giving them words of encouragement to continue to the next check-point, splashing their faces with cool water. Without fully realising, some of them found themselves in the process of wondering: ‘Why not me?’
They left their first experience as volunteers with a project in mind. They started working out. The following year, they enrolled in the race not as an opportunity hunter but rather as an active challenger! In my opinion, an experience that creates this exact ‘Why not me?’ attitude is the ultimate ‘crowd-hoping’ success!
For youth who suffer ‘nothingness’ there is nothing better than ‘crowd-hoping’; just like crowd-funding, crowd-hoping is about believers in a cause coming together to contribute to growing a hopeful target that inspires youth, grows communities, eliminates nothingness and makes youth dream of a better future, here, now. In today’s fast changing, economically challenged more polarized world; planting the seeds of hope is the most powerful weapon for a positive future with positive youth!
Photo: Ian Corliss