"I like direct, concrete philanthropy," said Ellen Clark, co-founder of the foundation. "I like philanthropy that shows exactly where your money goes."
To the Clarks, philanthropists ideally give a little cash, but take away much more from the experience. There are no ties, no tuxedos or gowns, and certainly no quick-mouthed, barely-intelligible auctioneers. The Clarks prefer their philanthropy down-to-earth and sweaty.
And that's why for the past 11 years the Clark family has hosted the Zimbabwe Run, a fair and set of races for kids that support a Zimbabwean orphanage and celebrate things that are important in the African nation: health, food, music, art, and charity.
The Zimbabwe Run will be held on Sunday, March 27, at St. Joseph's School, 1120 Miramonte Ave. in Mountain View. The fair begins at noon, and the races start at 1 p.m. The last race of the day is named for Kate Wakerly, the founder of the Voice.
The Zimbabwe Run holds true to the Clark family philosophy, "Money isn't the only thing," said Clark "and the kids come back with an education about Africa and they experience charity at their own level."
The Zimbabwe Run's fair is free to the public, and the 12 scheduled races are open to all ages with a $5 registration fee. The races vary in length: 220 yards for preschoolers, one-half mile for kindergartners and up, and a series of mile-long races aimed at grade-school through adult runners.
Coursing throughout the fair and the races is a distinctly Zimbabwean cultural vibe. Two Zimbabwean bands will be performing while runners snack on sadza, an authentic food made of cornmeal that is predominant in Zimbabwe. Local student artists from the community will also be exhibiting their African-themed artwork: clay sculptures, masks, paintings. Other arts and crafts will be on display as well.
The Batsirani foundation, a group of Zimbabwean mothers of disabled children, will have authentic Zimbabwean arts and crafts available for sale. And each of the races will have its own mascot, men and women in giraffe and lion suits running around, guiding runners, and doubtlessly cursing the heat.
Supplementing this distinct Zimbabwe flavor will be the presence of Gray Mahvera, professional cross-country runner and Zimbabwe native. Since 2008, the 41-year-old from Los Angeles has been coming to the Zimbabwe Run to support the cause started by the Clarks.
Mahvera is a seasoned runner. This February at the USA Cross Country Championships in San Diego he ran an 8K race in 26:38 and took second place.
However, the Zimbabwe Run is as full of surprises as it is charity. Last year Mahvera finished in second place in the mile run when he was bested, by one second, by Colin Mack, a sophomore from St. Francis High School. Mahvera blamed the U-turn in the race, which is there to keep the course on school grounds — "Everyone knows the legs of a 15-year-old are more flexible going around a U-turn than those of a 40-year-old — especially a 40-year-old who just drove from Los Angeles," Mahvera said about his finish last year.
Clark says the outcome of the races reinvent the Zimbabwe Run every year, and this year Mahvera is determined to best Mack.
As in previous years, all proceeds from this event will go to the Mukumbi Orphanage in Zimbabwe. The orphanage is home to about 100 children who need amenities like working toilets, solar cookers and a fence to ward off raiding baboons. Last year's event brought in $27,000 in money the orphanage used to acquire an electric generator.
The shoe drive will also be there this year. Fair goers can donate gently worn shoes to children in Zimbabwe, who often cannot afford them and cannot attend school without them.
The genesis of the Zimbabwe Run began in the 1990s when Clark's son Bill began living in Zimbabwe as a teacher. After visiting her son, Ellen Clark fell in love with the country and its people, but her heart was wrenched by the poverty and poor living conditions in the south African country known for its high occurrence of HIV/AIDS and the dictatorial oppression of its government.
The Clarks have another charity program at work in Paraguay. They accept direct donations to help provide farm land and gardens for a group of students and families to sustain and harvest.
Information and race sign-ups are available at www.zimbabweparaguay.org.