DUBAI// Charity will begin at home this year for a group that has raised millions of dirhams for good causes around the world by organising sponsored challenges in locations such as the Everest base camp, Kilimanjaro, Mongolia and Peru's Inca Trail.
Dubai-based Gulf for Good will be swapping the Himalayas for the Hajar when it celebrates the 40th anniversary of the founding of the UAE with a cycle trip by volunteers through all seven emirates.
The group, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a party on May 13, has raised Dh6.3 million by staging challenges in 21 countries to support children's charities in 23 countries.
But the proceeds of the bike ride will go to a cause much closer to home - Al Manar charity school in Ajman, where it will be used to replace air-conditioning units, doors and windows and buy desks and blackboards.
Al Manar provides free education for more than 2,400 youngsters aged up to 16, including 400 who have been orphaned or abandoned. There are 36 nationalities at the school.
"This is a pretty rich country but there are lots of poor people, both locals and expats, who for one reason or another can't attend normal schools, and Al Manar was set up for them," said Gulf for Good's British chairman Brian Wilkie.
"It's badly in need of refurbishment and we will be contributing towards that. It's a girls' and boys' school and it's non-denominational so it's a great cause."
He said he expected the six-day, 450km trip would raise at least Dh185,000 - but was hoping for a lot more. Up to 25 volunteers will take part.
"It will be fantastic. We'll be cycling through the desert and along the east coast through the mountains," added Mr Wilkie. "It'll be mostly on roads, though there will be a few off-road bits. Generally, the weather in December is pretty kind - it's not too hot and great for cycling."
The charity has organised previous challenges in the UAE but has never visited all seven emirates on one trip before.
"I know from my cycling experience here that, 10 years back, you were looked at as a bit of a nutter if you cycled, whereas now there are hundreds of people out every weekend," he said.
"And that happens all around the Gulf, so we're hopeful that we'll get people coming from the rest of the Gulf to do this challenge as well because, at the end of the day, we're called Gulf for Good, we're not UAE for good."
The ride will start at Al Ain on November 27 and the route will take in an enclave of Ajman, Hatta, Kalba, Khor Fakkan, Masafi, Falaj Al Mualla, Dibba and Al Ghail. The cyclists, who will spend three nights at desert camps, are due to roll into Dubai from Sharjah on December 2 - National Day - in time to celebrate the country's 40th birthday.
The trip will be Gulf for Good's 36th challenge. The money raised has been used to support projects ranging from building a community hospital in Nepal to equipping schools in Oman and Jordan, providing medical equipment in Palestine and constructing classrooms in Tanzania.
The charity is currently preparing for two other challenges - a trip to Borneo in July that will involve cycling, kayaking, rafting and hiking, and a trek to the Everest base camp in October.
The group is keen to expand beyond Dubai and attract more volunteers from Abu Dhabi.
"Because we're based in Dubai we've really focused on it, but now one of our governors lives in Abu Dhabi and he's devoting a lot of effort to getting it going there. We had an information evening there on Wednesday.
"There are an awful lot of Emiratis and expats in the capital who want to contribute, to make the world a better place, to get fit, to push their limits and do all the other things we try to do."