January 23, 2019 | ° F

Rutgers graduate gears up for Ironman-distance triathlon

Photo by Courtesy of David Hersh |

David Hersh, a graduate student, plays with kids in an orphanage in Kenya, where he studied abroad.

In the 14 to 15 hours per week of training for a 140.6 mile Ironman-distance triathlon, David Hersh said anything from the Rocky soundtrack to “Imagine Dragons” motivates him to keep on going.

Hersh is co-founder of The Endeleo Project, which aims to support organizations providing education services to vulnerable populations around the world. He believes triathlons are a great way to raise awareness, interest and money for a cause.

After practicing law for a little more than four years and finding the career limiting, Hersh is now a graduate student going for his Ph.D. in public policy from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Hersh has completed several half marathons and marathons, along with two Ironman-distance triathlons in the past. In 2009, he raised $2,700 for the project, and this time, he hopes to raise much more.

Hersh’s minimum goal is to raise $40,000, which will fund three projects. His actual goal is to raise $70,000 and use the extra money to start hiring staff.

He needs to put together a team of people to do the triathlon with him. If he can get up to 10 runners and each can raise $5,000, he can figure out the difference.

“It’s a big goal,” Hersh said. “There’s obviously always a chance when you set a very high goal that you won’t reach it, but I see no harm in striving for it.”

He said training can get discouraging, and one obstacle he faces in particular is dealing with a herniated disk he injured a few years ago.

“It’s not like I’d be the first person to have a herniated disk and finish an Ironman,” Hersh said.

When Hersh was in law school is 2006, he studied abroad in Kenya and explored various orphanages while exploring the country. He came across orphanages run by altruistic women who ran schools attached to the orphanages.

These women realized that if these orphans had a chance at a better future, they needed to be educated.

Inspired by the altruism he experience abroad, Hersh wanted to help support the education of this vulnerable population.

The easiest way to do that, he concluded, would be to start a nonprofit through which he could fundraise and offer financial support to those trying to educate “the neediest group of people.”

The Endeleo Project launched in 2008. The word “endeleo” means progress in Swahili, a name he came to after searching for a fun acronym but finding that they all sounded cheesy.

“We are absolutely about trying to make progress for these vulnerable populations … the downside is no one knows how to pronounce it,” Hersh said.

The Endeleo Project currently supports three partners. It first partnered with The Vision Passion Fellowship and Children’s Home, or VISPA, an orphanage-based school in rural southwestern Kenya that also serves as a school to over 500 students.

Initially, the project was raising money for VISPA and sending it on an as-needed basis. Eventually, its director mentioned it could use science and technology equipment, so the project graduated from sending money to financing projects.

“From that point on, we realized that this kind of project financing made a lot of sense,” Hersh said.

The subsequent two partners were the Barrio Planta Project, which seeks to empower low-income children and adults living in Nicaragua and Face to Face Germantown, which serves the struggling Germantown population in Philadelphia.

The Endeleo Project has about a dozen pending requests for partnerships from organizations all over the globe, but Hersh does not currently have the financial resources or staff to partner with so many organizations.

Maureen Holland, co-founder of The Endeleo Project, said Hersh and she were classmates in law school, and she has been involved with the organization since day one.

“We bonded over our shared belief in the inherent goodness of people and our interest in education as a tool for global change,” she said in an email. “Plus we both liked to eat wings and drink beer.”

In addition to fundraising, the project has begun to offer other services like grant reporting and program evaluation.

Holland said kids living in poverty have an especially difficult road, and The Endeleo Project wants to provide their partners with the support they need to keep doing what they are already doing so well.

On running the Ironman-distance triathlon, she jokingly noted that Hersh is insane.

“If you saw his workout spreadsheet, you’d think someone was keeping track of the stock market or something,” she said. “It’s color coded, broken down into subtypes of workouts, and then made to be analyzed and tweaked.”

The most important thing about The Endeleo Project is its goal to identify and support exceptional schools or educational programs operating in impoverished communities.

In five years, the goal is to have nine more partners, making a total of 12 — six in the United States and six in other countries. Hersh also wants a staff of dedicated people.

In 10 years, his goal is to have a big, full-time staff and over 20 partners. Through those partners, he wants to change the way education is viewed and make it available in the many underserved areas.

“It should be an absolute, unqualified human right that’s delivered as a service in the same way we see water or basic shelter as necessary rights that everybody is entitled to,” Hersh said.

Sabrina Szteinbaum

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