I care therefore I am

By Amy Rosenfeld

Amy Rosenfeld reports on a group of Aucklanders making changes by, ah, not changing.
Deciding what to wear in the morning can be a problem for some teenagers - but not University of Auckland student Dan Cullum. Dan has worn the same shirt, or a version of it, for about 1200 days in a row and has no plans to change it.
It's not because he has nothing else to wear, nor even because he wants to keep wearing it. He'll continue to wear it to help people in need and to inspire others to do the same.
Dan and fellow student Ben Goodger started wearing T-shirts bearing the words "I am Dan" and "I am Ben" in 2008.
"I dared Ben to wear the same shirt for a whole year and then we kind of dared each other," says Dan.
After a few weeks, the pair figured out a way to use the challenge to benefit others. They linked up with World Vision and by the end of the year had raised $5000 - enough to build a water tank in Tanzania, giving 500 people clean drinking water. They collect donations at fundrasing events and also sell personalised versions of their T-shirts.
Dan and Ben had then planned to go back to living, and dressing, as normal.
"But, by then, the idea had really caught on that it could be something bigger than what it was with just the two of us," says Dan.
Word spread and the I Am Challenge concept was sorted. This year, participants from 10 countries have joined the challenge.
Since the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch, the group has shifted its focus closer to home. Dan says this year's aims are not just about raising money, but about "rebuilding the human spirit" in the quake-torn city.
He believes the challenge is a good tool for people outside Christchurch who are unsure about how they can help.

"It's not like we can just pick up a spade and clean up the street or help rebuild a building."
The group also hopes to organise art and music shows for Cantabrians.
Ben, who is the team's communications manager, admits there were times when he struggled with the T-shirt challenge's two-year duration.
"I wouldn't have lasted anywhere near as long as I did if it wasn't for the cause and just reminding myself what the challenge stood for," he says.
First-time challenger Alex Soh, of Botany College, says attention from strangers can sometimes be difficult to deal with. "This morning, a guy cycles past, he's ... totally out of breath, but still puts in the effort to say, 'Hi Alex'."
Despite the odd testing moment, he's a loyal advocate. "It's just such a unique way of raising money for causes that really need it. I'd recommend everyone does it. The more the better. The bigger the movement the more change we can make in the world."
He says that the challenge is also a helpful tool in confronting materialism.
Dan, who arrived for his first interview with The Aucklander wearing his T-shirt with pyjama pants and jandals, agrees. "I really don't care what I wear anymore, but I know that there have definitely been times where I think, 'Man, I really don't want to wear the shirt anymore'.
"But that was kind of the point in making it a one-year challenge. It's supposed to be hard.
"As young people, we care a lot about what we wear. But if we can all take out one year of our lives, hopefully, it will help people to acknowledge a bit more the problems of this world."
The duo struggles to imagine a time when they won't be involved with the I Am Challenge.
Says Ben, "I'll be keen as long as there are people who want to do it."
For more information on the challenge and ways to support the team, see:
www.iamchallenge.org
 
 

- THE AUCKLANDER

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