Zumba-fit for African famine

When Waterloo resident and University of Guelph student Mariam Javed first began hearing about East Africa’s devastating drought and subsequent famine, it struck her with a sense of responsibility she couldn’t disregard. The crisis, which has now claimed lives across several African countries and led to desperate refugee conditions, was declared a famine in parts of Somalia on July 20.

“We all have iPods and iPhones and all that, and mansion houses, and like four cars, and for someone to be dying because they are so thirsty, it doesn’t really make any sense,” said Javed.

The event, titled “This Time for Africa: Zumbathon,” allowed participants to donate a minimum $10 donation to UNICEF to partake in one of two fun fitness classes, hosted in the Uptown Waterloo Square on Aug. 30. The zumba classes, taught by local instructor Liliana Dominguez, were an energetic combination of aerobics and Latin dance.

Said Javed, who had tried the fitness craze with friends during the school year, “you’re having so much fun while you’re working out that you can’t really tell you’re losing weight.”

Dominguez, who has been teaching zumba for two and half years in the Waterloo-Wilmot area, was ecstatic to be able to play a role in the charitable event.

“I am originally from Columbia so I’ve been through really hard times in my life, but nothing like people in Africa,” Dominguez explained. “So when I have the opportunity to be in this Zumbathon and help people that are going through such hard, hard moments, and feel that I can help them … I’ll do it.”

Each session appeared to host between 20 and 40 energetic zumba participants, many of whom were trying the activity for the first time. Maheen Sohail, who both participated and volunteered at the henna art booth, described the workout as “amazing.”

“I love the idea,” she said. “It’s very lively.”
Zumba teacher Carol Duke had heard of the event from Dominguez after meeting her at the Kitchener-Waterloo Latin Fest in July. “You just can’t get enough zumba once you start zumba,” Duke commented. “It’s so infectious.”
She continued, “My money goes to something really beneficial, and I’m cool with that.”

While some came out for a love of physical activity, others were drawn by the worthiness of the cause. When asked why she chose to attend, Suk Jeong replied, “Well, I think it’s part of our responsibility to take care of our community members, and community members at large, not just people who live here, but abroad as well.”

Jeong, who heard about the event from a co-worker, took it upon herself to distribute flyers and collect donations from those who could not attend.
For Rebecca Seiling, the Zumbathon provided an opportunity to expose her children to the harsher reality faced by millions in less fortunate countries.
Seiling commented, “I feel like it’s important for them to learn about world issues and what’s happening in the other parts of the world.”

Success for the day was defined by Javed as more than just a financial goal.
“If just a few people walk away from this, knowing that the famine exists, and thinking about it a little more, that’d be enough,” she said.

However, in addition to spreading awareness, the event surpassed its $1000 goal, reaching total donations of just over $1,500.
Thus proving that a little zumba, and a lot of heart, can go a long way toward making a difference in the lives of those in need.

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