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One of our regular columnists, Rowan Puttergill, is running a marathon to raise money for a rural school in South Africa. Memeburn has agreed to donate toward the cause, so we decided to interview Rowan to find out more about his efforts and to discover what technology he has been making use of during his training.
Memeburn: What inspired you to run your marathon?
Rowan Puttergill: During one of my visits to South Africa, I spent some time up in the Limpopo region, near Tzaneen, where I visited a rural school called Thelifa Combined School. The school is built on some farmland about 20km outside of Tzaneen and provides the children of farm labourers from the surrounding area with access to a basic education in accordance with the national syllabus. In order to get to the school, the majority of the children need to cross a river that is often quite badly flooded. Some years back, one of the kids lost his footing and was drowned. The school has been trying to get the local municipality to repair the old bridge for a number of years now, but there are some issues over land ownership and so far nothing has been done. After talking to a friend of mine, we decided to try to raise money to have the bridge repaired privately.
MB: So, all of the funds that you raise will go toward building a bridge?
RP: Well, obviously if we raise more than is required to actually get the bridge built, there are other areas where the school could benefit. For one, the school is in desperate need of money to build a science lab, to allow the children to do a little practical work. They could also do with some upgrades to their computer center, which currently includes five pretty old PCs all struggling to run Windows XP.
MB: Tell us about the marathon that you are going to run
RP: As your typical technology geek, I am not exactly the most athletic person that you have ever met, so when we decided to run a marathon I knew that I would need a fair amount of time to train for it. We decided to run the 2012 Zurich Marató de Barcelona, since it takes place at the end of March, which gave us nearly a year from the date that we decided to run. When we selected to run a marathon, I think both of us were a little naive about how physically demanding the task would be. I guess that after watching films like Run, Fatboy, Run you don’t quite realize that if you’re starting from scratch it really does take nearly a year of training to build up the fitness and strength required.
MB: What technology are you using to help train?
RP: Perhaps the most important bit of tech that I’ve been using is a Garmin ForeRunner 410, which is a GPS-based running watch. I didn’t have the money to fork out on a more recent version of the watch (Nick has the ForeRunner 610), but I must admit that the watch has really helped me to keep track of distances and to improve my training pace. The ForeRunner automatically syncs with a PC, which uploads your running data to the Garmin Connect website, where you can see maps of your runs and can see a lap-by-lap breakdown of your performance. Before I had the Garmin, I used my Nokia N900 and an app called eCoach, which gave me similar information, but was bulkier to carry around and less user-friendly. Other than that, there isn’t much other technology that I need to make use of while running, but on the fund-raising side of things we ran into some other tech trouble…
MB: Tell us more.
RP: When you’re raising money for a registered charity, most of the fundraising infrastructure is readily available through sites like justgiving.com or Crowdrise. All you have to do is select your registered charity and you’re off. In this case, though, we are directly trying to raise money for the school and we were unable to find a charity that would cater to our efforts. As a result, we had to build our fundraising site from scratch. Our first hiccup was sorting out a payment mechanism. The obvious choice was to use PayPal to handle online donations, but the school has been waiting for nearly two months to get their PayPal account linked to a South African bank account. Apparently they have really struggled with PayPal’s customer service, and we ended up deciding to use my private PayPal account to handle donations until the school can get things sorted out. We’ve also discovered that while PayPal has been supported by First National Bank in South Africa for the last two years, very few South Africans seem to be using the technology. We get a lot of well-wisher messages from South Africa, and offers to donate directly into the school bank account, but the majority of our online fundraising success seems to come from outside of Africa.
MB: What other problems did you run into?
RP: I had to build the fundraising site fast and with as little hassle as possible. I took advantage of the cloud hosting that I have at slicehost.com and literally followed a fantastic tutorial from TutorialZine to get the framework of the site built. In fact, you can still see that I held onto most of the styling elements in the tutorial. Once that was built, we were ready to start collecting donations. Unfortunately, the day that I launched the site, the Rackspace-Slicehost infrastructure suffered a severe network outage. I created a virtual server at Linode and began migrating the site to the new server, but the outage was eventually resolved and currently the site is still running at Slicehost. Still, the experience was useful as it gave me a real indication of how quickly one can actually provision a server in the cloud and migrate a site.
MB: Memeburn wishes you the best for your run, and will be donating to Thelifa. Where can readers find out more about your efforts and donate if they are interested?
RP: You can visit the site at http://thelifa.xplode.org and read more about the school and our cause there. Thanks to Memeburn for all of your support, I’ll let you know how the run goes!