On December 2, Jake Norris (36) from South Australia and Sean Down (44) from Ireland set off from Hanoi’s Opera House to walk 2,000 kilometers from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City over a never-before-attempted mountainous route.
|The international teachers will make a 2000km trek to change the lives of disadvantaged Vietnamese children. Photos: Australian Embassy in Vietnam
The duo hopes to raise more than US$200,0000, which will be split equally between the two charities. The Australian Embassy is sponsoring the walkers in recognition of Australia's commitment to combating human trafficking and as part of its activities to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Australia.
Jake, who has lived in Hanoi for seven years, and his teammates from the Vietnam Swans AFL club visit an orphanage every year to play with the children and give them gifts. Mindful of the difficult lives some children lead in Vietnam, Jake felt the urge to help change the situation. His ambitious idea for a charity walk began to take shape during the Covid lockdown three years ago.
"I finally had time to start planning something - something that would make a significant difference," he says. "I wanted to give back to the country and the people who have given me so much."
Explaining their choice of route, Sean said: "One reason we chose such a difficult route, away from the flat, main roads that people usually use, is to give us more opportunities to be among the local communities. Our trail adds an extra challenge because it's longer, sparsely populated, and mountainous in parts."
The international hikers plan to stop at every orphanage along the way and are looking forward to engaging with local communities and raising awareness of how many children need help in Vietnam. As animal lovers, they will also stop at animal shelters along the way.
|The walkers will depart from the Hanoi Opera House in downtown Hanoi on December 2.
Since September, Sean and Jake have raised US$12,500 for the cause through events in Hanoi, including A$5,000 (US$3,300) from the Australian Embassy.
According to UNICEF, nearly 5.5 million children in Vietnam experience at least two deprivations in health, education, nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation, or social inclusion. It is estimated that 100 children under the age of five die every day.
Half of the money raised will be donated to the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which works to end human trafficking. Children growing up in extreme poverty are often forced to leave school and move far from home, exposing them to dangers such as human trafficking, homelessness, sexual exploitation, drug abuse, and disease.
The second charity to benefit from the walk will be the Thanh Loc Project, a charity organization dedicated to transforming the lives of disadvantaged children in Vietnam. In addition to providing education to underprivileged children, the organization builds classrooms, libraries, and homes for families.
Rod Stone, founder of the Thanh Loc Project, said: "Just over $250 is enough to send a child to school for a full year, paying for tuition, textbooks, personal health insurance, backpacks, uniforms; everything the child would need for a full year of our education. Most of these children are attending school for the first time through our student education scholarship programs. It's an amazing accomplishment so far."