Inspiring Deeds


Champa’s (and Chhotu’s) London Marathon 2008

Well, we completed the marathon & despite all the aches & pains, it was an absolutely fantastic day for both myself and my husband, Chhotu.

My story began shortly before my fortieth birthday – it was a family joke that my husband who has always been a very keen sportsman was trying to get me fit for the big 40.

I started off with jogging some of the time and walking most of it – but give Chhotu credit that he always stayed with me & was very encouraging.  The day that I jogged for the full distance (including a steep hill), there was a great sense of achievement.

Exercise made me feel good and in addition because we used to go out early in the morning before leaving for work there was a great kick-start to the day.  Within a few months we were regularly jogging 3 times a week and in 2001 I felt brave enough to make my first attempt at trying for a long distance run.

I, therefore, applied to run in the Kodak Harrow half-marathon (not quite ready for the full marathon).  The training in this instance was quite challenging as I was running by myself and when you have run past the same tree for the twelfth time and know that more must follow, it can get quite daunting.

However, I persevered and got myself to the start line.  It was a punishing run, especially when I saw that most people where over-taking me within the first few hundred yards however as time went this situation changed because the ones who had put their all into the first part of the race were finding it tough going and I found myself giving them words of encouragement.  The finish line found me completing my first ever half-marathon in 2hr & 19 mins and I also raised £350 which was donated to the school for handicapped children that our precious daughter, Nimisha, had attended.  This was especially appropriate as 2001 would have been her 21st birthday and I felt that we celebrated it in a very special way.

Having done this I had the ambition to try running in the London Marathon.  I therefore started applying in the autumn of 2002 for my own ballot place and this time Chhotu too felt that it was an achievement worth trying for.

As you know it is a bit of a lottery – some people are successful on their first application, others have to keep on trying – there was one consolation however in that the rules say that after being declined consecutively for five years you do get an automatic placement for the sixth year.  We could have tried for a charity place but most of them expect a minimum of £1000.00-£1500.00 each in donation for a placement, which for the both of us would have been very hard to raise as we had decided that as far as possible we did want to run the London Marathon together.

We persevered and eventually in 2007 Chhotu won a ballot place but I was declined yet again.  The rules also allow you to postpone your place to the following year encouragement as we knew that there would be an automatic entry for me in 2008, despite my protests, Chhotu felt this was the best course to take.  Well I got my acceptance letter in the winter of 2007 for the following year – the London Marathon of 2008 was to take place on Sunday, 13th April – and you would think I had won the lottery, I felt so elated.

This was when the hard work started as we trained to build up our stamina for the grueling 26.2 mile run.  It wasn’t easy but little by little we were getting there and on the first of January, 2008, ran the half marathon distance of 13.1 miles – we just had to double this up now!!

There followed 3 months of rigorous training and always the thought, what if anything goes wrong/what if one of us gets injured during training, especially critical for Chhotu would not be able to take his ballot place forward to another year.  Despite all this, the big day finally approached and during the final week we were once again very busy as there was the registration at the London Excell Centre, collection of official running numbers, the chips for our shoes so that an official time could be recorded for our running time, visiting the reception for our chosen charity, making friends & family aware of this and raising funds and of course the training to be fitted in as well.

We had chosen the charity ‘I Can’ which helps children to communicate as I feel that every child has a right to this and what better statement than for a handicapped child to be able to say, ‘I Can’.

Unfortunately, one week before the marathon I had a touch of flu and really felt that after all the hard work I was not going to be able to make it on the day but once again got a lot of encouragement from Chhotu, who I think had more faith in me than I did.  Sunday, 13th of April, turned out to be a cold blustery morning and saw us leaving home at 6.30am to be at Bexleyheath for the start of the Marathon at 9.00 am and our particular group at 9.45 am.  We finally set off and I find it hard even now to put into words our feelings of exhilaration n as we jogged on the streets of South London to the accompaniment of applause and words of encouragement from the wonderful people who had braved the bad weather to come and watch us.

As forty thousand people ran the streets of London all you could hear was the pounding of their feet on the tarmac and as we clocked up the miles as shown by the mileage markers there was a wonderful feeling of participation and belonging to an elite group.

After a grueling 5.30 hours of running in the rain, sleet, wind, cold and accompanied by pain (I had suffered a groin injury at the half way point which got worse with every step) we finally crossed the finishing line.  The sense of achievement is indescribable – we had just finished one of the world’s best known marathons and crossed the finish line still standing on our own two feet and we had done it together as a dedication to the memory of our lovely daughter – 2008 is the twentieth anniversary of her death and this was a particularly appropriate way to remember her.

My ambition had also finally been realized and in doing so I had also learnt that, where there is a will, there is always a way.   Along the way we also collected donations for a very worthy cause – the final total was almost £1400.00 thanks to the generosity of a lot of very kind people.

We collected our finisher’s medals and our kit and there followed a difficult journey home – I now know what people mean when they say their legs turned to jelly as standing up got more and more difficult.

All I can now say is that we both had an absolutely wonderful day and I for one would love to be able to do it all over again.

It was not easy, but if you are itching to do something challenging then wishing for it is not going to get you there. Resolve. Put in the necessary work and stay with it. I didn’t break any records, the knowledge that I challenged myself and won is enough of a tonic to last a life time – or at least until the next time!!! And to be able to say, “I CAN” and I am sure You Can as well.

Champa Soma

Pinner, Harrow. UK.(Bodali)



Dental Volunteer Programme (DVP) in Tanzania

I am Dr Neeta Patel and I practice as a General Dental Practitioner in Elstree, Hertfordshire, UK. I have been qualified for 15 years and my main interests are treating children, nervous patients and cosmetic dentistry.

The Dental Volunteer Programme (DVP) was advertised by a dental charity, Dentaid, in their newsletter. I have always had a personal interest in pursuing some form of overseas volunteer work, particularly in East Africa where I was born. This struck me as an ideal opportunity to be able to provide dental services in a completely different environment and to also fulfil a need for people who would otherwise not be able to access dental treatment. The DVP had never been tried before so I was part of a pilot trip. This appealed to me as I wanted to be part of something new and challenging. I was accompanied by another dentist and one dental nurse.

The main aim of the DVP was to provide basic dental treatment to communities based in the rural areas of Tanzania. This treatment was mainly extractions due to poor oral health and lack of any oral hygiene education. We were unable to do fillings as these areas did not have power or running water.

We also took part in training rural clinical officers (RCO’s) to carry out basic dental procedures. These RCO’s had simple theoretical knowledge relating to dentistry but no practical hands-on experience. The training element of the programme proved to be successful and very rewarding.

The DVP lasted 10 days and was based in Mwanza. The itinerary was very structured and detailed. The day started early at 6.30am after which we had a two hour journey to the village. The roads were dusty and bumpy but the scenery was amazing. We would see people just going about their business and most of them lived in mud huts which they had built themselves.

On arrival we were greeted by masses of people waiting to see us. It was overwhelming to see so many people and disappointing to know that we would not be able to treat all of them. The climate was hot and humid and the work demanding under the conditions but by the end of each day I always felt rewarded knowing that I had made a difference to each person that I had treated. The people themselves were grateful to us and showed us by their gestures and smiles.

My time in Tanzania has left me with a great sense of accomplishment. To be able to help people less fortunate than ourselves in such a worthwhile service. I would urge those of you thinking about volunteering in any capacity to go ahead as you will be completely rewarded by your experience and as with myself, it will always stay in your heart.

(Neeta K Patel)


KILIMANJARO – An unforgettable experience!

The journey to the top started at the beginning of this year when three friends ( Dharmi, Hansa and Indira) and I signed up to do a charity trek to climb Kilimanjaro. We were raising funds for the charity ‘Bridge2Aid’, based in Mwanza, Tanzania.  We had nine months to get fit, both mentally and physically in preparation for the ascent in September.

I am no stranger to keeping fit as I regularly swim and believe that a fit body and mind are very important for our well-being. We all trained in our own way initially. I joined the local gym to improve my stamina and strength and continued swimming regularly. We knew that good preparation would be the key to our success in conquering the Kili.

Disaster struck in February, while I was on holiday skiing. I broke my leg below the knee and had to have a metal plate inserted into the tibia bone. My initial concern was whether I would recover sufficiently and then of course, I would need to train harder. I put the thought out of my mind and concentrated on being positive. In a way, this accident had made me more determined to climb the Kili.

My recovery was uneventful and after 10 weeks, good news, I was given the go-ahead to start back to work and also to begin with gentle training. My consultant signed me fit to do the trek in June and I was overjoyed. My leg was feeling fairly strong but I would still need to be careful.

As part of the training we were told to do some hill walking. We managed to climb Mount Snowdon twice and also went to the South Downs coastal area. Locally, we went on long walks together carrying our backpacks to get used to the weight that we would be carrying on the actual trek itself.

The long anticipated day arrived. We had our kit bags packed and the excitement was mounting. The journey to Kilimanjaro went well but we were pretty tired on arrival at the hotel. We were met by our guide, Henk, who worked for Classic Tours. They were the tour company who had organised the trek for Bridge2Aid. After a de-briefing we retired for a good sleep. We would be starting the trek the following morning.

The day dawned bright and sunny and we were all in good spirits. I had to pinch myself that I was actually here and about to start on my first real adventure of a lifetime. We followed the Marangu route up the mountain which had three camps. The first camp was Mandara and would take 4-5 hours to reach. As we started to walk it was emphasised that the pace had to be very slow (that’s Pole-Pole in Swahili) and that nobody was allowed to go past the lead guide (John). It was a gentle ascent through lush rainforest. We were surrounded by an incredible variety of towering trees, giant ferns and wild flowers. I was expecting to hear the chattering of Colobus monkeys but surprisingly it was very peaceful.

On arrival at Mandara we quickly organised ourselves into the huts where we would be sleeping and then set off again to walk a further 100metres up to the Maundi crater. The reason for doing this is to help with acclimatisation. It is important to climb a little higher than the camp each day and then to sleep low as this helps on the following day’s trek. We were at 2744m.

Day 2 was an early start. The sun was shining and we would be walking uphill for 7-8 hours to reach the second camp, Horombo. We passed through more rainforest but gradually the landscape started to change into a more rugged and rocky terrain. The trees disappeared and the vegetation consisted of more bracken bushes and mountain flowers. We saw our first glimpse of the magnificent peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo. I felt a real sense of accomplishment on reaching Horombo Camp. There was another acclimatisation trek which was quite steep and rocky. We were now at 3761m.

On day 3, an acclimatisation trek of 5 hours followed the upper Kibo trail to Zebra Rock at 4000m. This was a beautiful rock formation with black and white striations. A further 200m climb lead us to an observation point where we got spectacular views of the peaks and the saddle trail which we would be walking the following day. We also got sight of the next camp called Kibo.

I arose early on day 4 to see the sunrise. The clouds looked so fluffy around us that it was hard to imagine how high we really were. A very long day was ahead of us as we would be following the lower Kibo trail across the saddle. This terrain was almost desert-like with mountain flora and fauna consisting of giant cacti and lobelia trees. It was very windy and getting much colder. We saw a large sand twister which was amazing as I had never seen one before. It disappeared up high into the clouds. After 7 hours of walking we arrived at Kibo camp which was much more basic than the previous two camps. A further acclimatisation trek followed on arrival and I found this difficult due to tiredness and the effects of altitude causing my heart to beat a lot faster. We were now at 4732m. The following day we would be ascending to the summit.

Summit day arrived and we were all quietly nervous. The morning involved another acclimatisation trek to 5000m after which we would prepare for our ascent to the summit that evening. I was unable to sleep as my mind was racing with constant thoughts about the challenge ahead. I had done enough reading to know that this was going to be the most steepest and difficult part of the trek so far.

We awoke at 9.30pm and layered up as it was absolutely freezing. The ascent was very, very slow due to the altitude and we only had head torches lighting our way as we zigzagged up the slope. When I looked back I could see a trail of lights snaking behind me. It was a beautiful sight in the otherwise complete darkness. The guides helped us along by singing mountain songs in Swahili as they effortlessly walked up the slope. This helped to lift our spirits. My heart was beating much faster to cope with the effects of the altitude and this was quite frightening but I kept on going at a steady pace. I was determined to get up there. I reached Gilman’s Point on the crater rim at an altitude of 5685m and I was feeling exhausted.

It was still dark and the sun had not yet risen. I rested for just a few minutes to take a photo before continuing onto Uhuru Peak which was a further 200m at 5895m. I knew that it would still take 2 hours to reach Uhuru. I dug deeper in myself to find the energy to keep on going and carried on around the rim of the crater. The landscape was rocky but so beautiful. I tried to take it all in, but started to feel very emotional as we got closer to the summit. Seeing the wooden boards in front of me when we finally arrived was too much. I started to cry with tears of joy, relief and a very real sense of achievement. I knew how hard I had worked to get to this point and it had all been worth it. My leg was feeling fine, the sun was shining, and I didn’t have a headache or feel nauseous. I was on the ‘Roof of Africa’ looking out over the clouds and the spectacular glacier.

Our unforgettable experience is etched in our minds forever. One cannot underestimate what a huge challenge we took on and how being prepared for the challenge was so important. Fitness was only a part of the whole experience as a will to succeed helped the final drive to reach the summit. I have learnt that ‘Where there is a will there is always a way’. The African proverb is right- Adversity is your best friend, because it introduces you to yourself!

Bridge2Aid are a dental and community development charity working in Tanzania to alleviate dental suffering and to improve the lives of the ‘Maskini’ people who live on the streets. Many are disabled and suffer from leprosy. I was one of the first UK dentists who went out to Tanzania in 2004 to help train Rural Clinical Officers to perform extractions of teeth and I myself extracted over 100 teeth in the course of the 10 days that I spent there. Bridge2Aid now have a Dental Volunteer Programme running three times a year but also invite non-dentists who would like to volunteer, to help improve the facilities at a community centre for the homeless called Bukumbi. The experience was very rewarding and left me with a sense of fulfilment that I really did make a difference to the lives of many individuals.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my family and friends for their support in helping me achieve my goal and to all the people who sponsored me to help me reach the target of £2800 (which is the minimum sponsorship required). I eventually raised £3500 and the money will make a huge difference to the people of Tanzania.

The whole experience was very rewarding for us all leaving us with a sense of fulfilment and for me, a great sense of personal achievement.

Dr Neeta Patel