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‘Go the Distance’ campaign raises awareness of refugee women’s plight

The idea, like many great ideas, came to Sera Bonds while in the shower.

She would swim from Turkey to Greece for charity. Specifically, her own charity, Circle of Health International (COHI), a humanitarian aid nonprofit based out of Austin that works with women and their communities in times of crisis and natural disasters.

Slowly, that idea became the seed for the group’s latest campaign “Go the Distance,” which aims to raise funds and awareness for the plight of refugee women across the world.

As part of the campaign, Circle of Health International has created profiles on its website of six different refugee women from a variety of places including Eritrea, Syria, Ethiopia and Central America. Those profiles tell the story of each woman: who they are, where they’re from, how they became refugees and how many miles they have to travel to flee their compromising circumstances.

Participants commit to either donating $50, or walking, running or swimming the mileage that the refugee women have to travel. The challenges vary in difficulty from beginners, which are just about 4 miles, to advanced, which are 40 miles. Each challenge has a suggested time frame for completion.

The nonprofit encourages people to participate by emphasizing the fitness and health aspect of walking, running or swimming these long distances. But it also uses the distance markers as a way of teaching people about the travails that refugee women endure every day. As of June 2015, the nonprofit said, there were 30 million refugee women and girls across the globe.

“It makes you think of the people you’re doing the campaign for,” said Bonds, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit. “We’re doing a kind of crazy thing that people do every day, and not for fitness.”

As of Friday, the group had raised more than $5,000 of its $60,000 goal. It’s gotten some buy-in from local groups like the Texas Nurses Association in Austin and the FIT4MOM Austin Metro franchise, a fitness group for mothers. That group’s six locations in Austin logged 375 miles in a one-week span as part of the campaign, most of them done outside of the group’s actual classes, said Reagan Wizbicki, an instructor with the group.

“We just felt a connection with their passion for serving women and children in crises at a grassroots level,” Wizbicki said. “We challenged our members to create awareness for this particular social issue and give donations if people felt inspired. We had a lot of really positive feedback.”

On Mother’s Day, Circle of Health International will hold its biggest event since the campaign started on International Women’s Day March 8: a swim at Barton Springs pool with international open water swimmer Michelle Macy.

And later in the summer, Bonds, who has slowly ramped up her training since she committed to the campaign will swim the nearly 4 miles from Turkey to Greece to symbolize the plight of thousands of refugees who have already made that crossing in recent years.

Bonds said she hopes the campaign will shine a new spotlight on the refugees her group is trying to help.

“The story is not me,” Bonds said. “It’s these brave people.”

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