Charmain Shandu runs to keep fit and to help elderly citizens
Charmain Shandu runs to keep fit and to help elderly citizens

Running with purpose

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Mar 6, 2021

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Charmain Shandu registered to run the Comrades Marathon in 2010 in an attempt to dull the pain in her heart after her divorce ‒ but taking up running opened up a whole new road ahead.

Shandu, 44, who is a marketing manager and Tafta (The Association for the Aged) council member, raised R10 000 through her annual 31KMOn31st December Charity Fun Run Challenge, which was matched by R10 000 from Santam, with the total amount being handed over to Tafta this week.

"I did not run back then, I had not even made the run team at school, but I went and registered for Comrades. I was very unfit and during a divorce, you tend to lose all your 'couple' friends and taking up running had such a positive effect on my life.

"Over time I got fit, I joined a club and met a whole new circle of amazing people and it's had a knock-on effect on the rest of my life," said Shandu, who now has five Comrades medals under her runner’s belt.

She does road and trail running, and time and weather permitting, can often be spotted along the Durban beachfront promenade as she trains four or five times a week.

The mother of three said that, five years ago, she and a group of friends were running together, but at that time there were no races or fun runs held in December. Already involved with Tafta, she held the first 31KMOn31st December Charity Fun Run Challenge.

"All I asked for anyone wanting to join the run, was to bring some non-perishables or toiletries for our elderly citizens," she said.

The event grew and by December 2019, just before Covid, more than 800 participants joined the fun run.

It has always taken place along the beachfront promenade, but there is no set route and participants can rack up their own 31km.

"It's not a formal race and we stay away from any main roads. We run from Sun Coast to the new pier and back and then to extend the run, participants can run to the Engen Garage in Durban North (21km) or as far as the Virginia circle and back (31km)," said Shandu.

By October, she was getting queries about the December 2020 Fun Run, which was held as a virtual event with participants being allowed to run between December 2020 and January 2021.

"Some of our group had contracted Covid and so would not have been fit enough to run in December, so the virtual run was held over a month.

"I ran up and down the promenade four times, with a couple of extra loops around the amphitheatre and Blue Lagoon, to show it can be done and that was 31 kilometres," she said.

Shandu originally worked with Tafta as part of their advocacy committee to encourage more black elderly people to move into Tafta homes.

"We all want to keep gogo at home for as much as possible, but times have changed and many families are out all day.

"With the Covid lockdown, it's been very hard, human beings are meant to interact. Their world was already small and has shrunk since lockdown and my heart goes out to all our elderly residents. February was the month of love and I know we can't hug one another, but I want them to know we are keeping them in our minds all the time," she said.

Tafta provides homes for thousands of frail and elderly residents across Durban and recently made an appeal for financial assistance.

With the budget announcement of a 1.16% increase in the old age social grant, which sees an increase from R1 860 to R1 890, Tafta CEO Femada Shamam said recent studies had shown that 87% of the country's elderly were using their grants to support family members.

She said Tafta struggled with a continued reduction in state funds and a growing debtors book of elders incapable of meeting their rental commitments, forcing the organisation to eat into its financial reserves.

"If the current climate prevails, long-standing organisations like our own who continue to carry the responsibility of the state to care for vulnerable elders, will be forced into making difficult sustainability decisions to services for vulnerable elders. Where will that leave the impoverished elder generation then?" she said.

The Independent on Saturday

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