The East London Cansa Relay for Life, in which those affected by the disease and their loved ones walk through the night, was awarded the Global Spirit of Relay Award for 2016, making it the best out of thousands of similar relays worldwide.
“We were handed the award at the South African Relay for Life Award Summit in Pretoria in May and it was awesome,” Relay for Life East London chairman Patrick Schwulst said.
He said the 2016 event was attended by up to 5000 people in 230 teams who walked in relays around the Jan Smuts Stadium track through the night for 12 hours and raised R838000.
“We do it overnight because cancer never sleeps,” said Schwulst, whose father is a breast cancer survivor.
“That was the highest we have raised since we started doing the Relay for Life nine years ago.
“This money does not go towards finding a cure because that costs lots of money and is being done by the American Cancer Society.
“This money is a fundraiser that enables us to keep our doors open so that we can educate people and offer support and care services.”
He said he thought the East London event beat thousands of relays held in 26 countries because of the diversity of people who came to the stadium with the same aim.
“The whole community buys into it. All races, ages and cultures come to the Jan Smuts Stadium for a common goal, which is fighting cancer.”
Schwulst said the Luminaria Ceremony, which takes place after sunset when lights are switched off and about 3000 candles are lit in bags in tribute to those who are fighting the battle and those who have died, was deeply moving.
“It is very emotional because each candle symbolises a person.”
Cansa Eastern Cape divisional manager of sustainability Michelle Goddard said she thought the win could also be due to sheer numbers of people who flow into the stadium, pitch tents on the grass and ensure at least one member of every team is walking on the track throughout the night.
“We are such a huge relay. We are abnormally large and that is something that is very specific to East London. We are supposed to be divided into different communities, but I can’t think of anything worse.
“I think the fact that we are unified into one is the success of it.
“People even come from King William’s Town. Communities have taken ownership of this event.
“The only VIPs we invite are the survivors.
“They even have a VIP tent.”
The Relay for Life began in the US in 1985 and South Africa now has 65 relays all over the country.
“Next year is our 10th anniversary here in East London. There is going to be a massive flame burning all night to symbolise hope.” — firstname.lastname@example.org