CHARITY IS SUCH A BURDEN: Racers in hazmat suits, prison chains and other extras kick off month-long effort to help vulnerable women worldwide as part of national TV auction


Berit Vasstrand wasn’t a prisoner trying to make a quick getaway (like that’d be possible with the ball and chain attached to her wrist over a full-body striped outfit). Instead, as an employee for Svalbard’s governor (but not, as one might guess, a police officer), she and some coworkers were out to help unknown women suffering elsewhere by taking on a challenge that might be dubbed Bureaucrats Bearing Burdens.


Costume-clad competitors get psyched before the start of Saturday’s relay race for charity in the center of Longyearbyen. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

However, they were just one of 21 groups of locals ranging from heath care workers to politicians to firefighters to super-secret satellite technicians participating in rely race through the center of Longyearbyen early Saturday afternoon to kick off a month of fundraising events that are a local tradition preceding a nationwide television auction to raise funds for a designated cause each October. Svalbard has for many years raised the most money per-resident and this year nearly all the relay teams appeared to feel the need to bear plenty of extra burdens in the form of outlandish outfits and accessories.

“Each of us chose what we would wear,” Vasstrand said, explaining it wasn’t the police at the governor’s office who decided on her fate as a convict. As for how much the ball and chain (a trawl ball rather than one of metal, thus making the chain the heavier burden) might slow the completion of her lap of the race, “I don’t know. Some minutes.”

A total of 49,500 kroner was raised from the race, according to the official local Facebook page for the TV auction campaign. Total annual local funds raised during a series of traditional events and a lottery drawing frequently have exceeded 1 million kroner, although the total in recent years has declined somewhat due to large-scale turnover in the population and the massive downsizing of Store Norske.

Among the upcoming local events preceding the nationwide telethon on Oct. 20 (more will be detailed as they are scheduled):

• Oct. 2: Evening hike to Varden.
• Oct. 3: Pick-up  meals from Polarflokken kindergarten.
• Oct. 12-13: Flea market at UNIS.
• Oct 16: Evening meal/entertainment/variety sale at Longyearbyen School
• Oct. 20: Auction of local items. Kulturhuset.

There will also be sales of baked goods and other items during weekends at Svalbardbutikken and elsewhere at other times.

Proceeds from this year’s telethon are being donated to CARE Norway, a non-governmental organization working in 13 countries to promote gender equality and women’s rights.

“With this year’s telethon CARE Norway will give 400 000 women in some of the world’s poorest countries the opportunity to build a better life for themselves, their families and their communities,” the telethon’s official website states.