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Les Mills is launching an ambitious project, working with UNICEF to try and save hundreds of thousands of lives across East Africa. CEO Phillip Mills tells the story
We’ve set ourselves a very ambitious charitable objective at Les Mills – and to achieve it, we need to enlist the help of the entire global Les Mills community.
That’s what we’re here for today: I want to explain what we’re doing, why we’re doing it – and I want to urge clubs and instructors to get involved.
We’re setting out to raise millions of dollars to support the invaluable work UNICEF is doing in East Africa – the life-saving assistance the organisation is providing to people, and in particular refugee and displaced children, across the trouble hotspots in this region. Our key focus is to provide clean, safe water to all those in desperate need.
We’re hoping this will become the single biggest fundraising event the fitness industry has ever seen – but of course, it’s easy to say that. We have to actually do it. I genuinely believe it’s possible, though, if the big operators and our fantastic tribe of Les Mills instructors embrace this very strong cause.
On 14 January 2017, we launched BODYPUMP 100 – and we saw upwards of half a million participants around the world taking place in classes that day. Those are serious numbers, and we immediately spotted an opportunity to run a similar event for charity.
As many people will know, I’m very passionate about global warming, and my original thought was to link up with a green charity to plant a million trees. However, my wife Jackie was already closely involved with UNICEF through our Born to Move programming – and within just a week of mentioning our idea to them, we found ourselves meeting with UNICEF representatives from all over the world.
UNICEF already had World Children’s Day scheduled for November 2017 and they were very keen that we become the main fundraiser this year. They told us about the millions of displaced children around the world, and about the hundreds of thousands of lives that we could save. We couldn’t help but want to support them.
Ever since it gained independence from North Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has been torn apart by a civil war between the two leading tribes. This war has caused countless thousands to take refuge in one of the UN camps in the country – the only place they stand a decent chance of staying safe.
Meanwhile, the civil war has brought about economic collapse, so people are struggling to get the food, clean water and medical care they so vitally need. The UN is providing this, and in doing so is quite simply keeping people alive.
So it’s no overstatement to say this trip was one of the most significant experiences of my life. Seeing the vast numbers of people in the UN camps, living under incredibly difficult conditions but – with the help of the hundreds of volunteers who are risking their lives to be there – trying to create as normal an environment as possible for their kids to grow up in. It was very humbling.
The way situations like this are so often viewed from afar is with the question: ‘Why should we help them when their own actions have brought this on?’ UNICEF’s answer is quite simply: ‘Because we can save hundreds of thousands of lives by being here.’
And they haven’t brought this on themselves. They’re victims of war and of economic collapse and they urgently need help in the form of clean water, food and medical care.
These are human beings just like us. My overwhelming sense when I was in South Sudan was of a very beautiful, dignified, intelligent people who could be scientists or doctors or lawyers. This could be us and our kids. But they have nothing and they’re in fear of their lives. There are tiny children being brought in by their mothers and they’re starving to death. It’s heart-rending.
The political situation – the war – could take a generation to resolve, but we can make a difference right now by raising money to save lives.
The Les Mills Workout for Water event will take place on Saturday 18 November, and we want Les Mills instructors and clubs to sign up to play their part.
We’re asking every instructor in our global tribe to commit to hosting a special Workout for Water class on 18 November, and to ask everyone who comes along to make a donation to UNICEF through a specially created web page. This money will go direct to UNICEF to fund its work in East Africa.
We’ll help you add extra challenges into your classes – for example, activities that symbolise the miles and miles walked by African children every day just to collect water. We’ll also provide you with all the assets you could ever need to make a serious noise!
Our plea to clubs is this: please support your Les Mills instructors in making Workout for Water a huge success. Please help them promote the classes. Please consider making a donation of your own. And please open these classes to everyone – non-members and members alike – so we can maximise the fundraising potential.
We’re setting out a clear goal: that each class should aim to raise the cost of a hand pump for well water. That costs US$414.70, which equates to 20 participants per class donating an average of just over US$20 per person.
When you multiply that by the 130,000 Les Mills instructors around the world – and realise that one pump provides clean, safe water for a whole community – it’s clear we have a chance to genuinely transform the lives of many people across East Africa.
If just half of our instructors were to run classes like this, we’d smash even our most ambitious goals, but our dream is that everyone will get involved. We want to raise as much as we possibly can – and every penny will go to UNICEF.
Some of the world’s biggest celebrities will be backing the campaign – household names that will ensure the event generates huge awareness and inspires the public to get involved.
So, getting involved with our campaign doesn’t only make altruistic sense. It also represents a huge opportunity to get new people into activity, by harnessing the power of celebrity and by running a really engaging, fun, life-affirming event that’s open to non-members and members alike.
Les Mills and UNICEF have a common goal of creating a world where every child survives and thrives. With your help, we can make a difference. Will you help? You can save the date and have your questions answered here.
You can see Phillip's trip to South Sudan here: