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Monday, July 22, 2024

Trekking for change

The Saigon Times

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Three months ago, Jake Norris, an Australian English teacher, and his Irish friend, Sean Down, embarked on a remarkable journey—a 2,000-kilometer trek from Hanoi to HCMC. Their mission? To raise funds for those in need. Intrigued by their inspiring story, The Saigon Times caught up with them to learn more about their journey of kindness from the very beginning.

The Saigon Times: Can you share with us the inspiration behind your decision to do this trek?

Jake Norris: I have been living in Vietnam for seven years, teaching children in Hanoi. When Covid hit in 2020, I got stuck in Australia for about six or seven months. During that time, I felt the urge to do something for Vietnam and its people. So, why not walk from Hanoi to HCMC? A cool 2,000 km trek to raise money for children in need – that was the plan. However, because of COVID-19, the walk got pushed back as all borders to Vietnam were locked down. Luckily, last February, Sean hit me up asking if we were still up for the walk as he wanted to be on board. And here we are! We have managed to pull in over US$40,000 so far for two charities: the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and the Thanh Loc project. I hope this money does some good for the people in Vietnam.

Sean Down: Jake has been the driving force behind organizing the walk, and his passion for it has been evident from the start. As he just mentioned, this is an opportunity for us to give back to Vietnam in a way we have never done before. So I decided to jump into this big venture. I believe the money is expected to rise higher in the coming time and provide more help for unfortunate people in the country.

Covering 2,000 kilometers from Hanoi to HCMC is no small feat – quite the journey. Please share with us details about the route and duration of your trek.

Jake Norris: We began our adventure on December 2, 2023, and concluded it on February 24, 2024. Our chosen route was carefully selected to offer a more immersive experience, steering clear of busy highways to allow for deeper interactions with local communities. We aimed to traverse off-the-beaten-path areas of Vietnam, opting for backroads to connect with children and families along the way. While we occasionally ventured onto the coastal highways to cities like Hue, Danang, and Hoi An, our main goal was to engage with communities in ways that traditional modes of transportation couldn’t facilitate.

Let’s talk about the challenges you faced during this journey.

Jake Norris: Just three months before the walk, I injured my left knee, raising concerns that I might require reconstructive therapy. There was a genuine fear that Sean might have to proceed with the journey alone. Fortunately, my knee healed well, alleviating those concerns. Additionally, we encountered significant weather challenges, enduring torrential rains that made finding shelter a struggle. We had to adapt quickly to the unpredictable conditions.

Sean Down: I have been dealing with a badly broken ankle from a few years ago, and now, there are two pieces of metal and 12 screws holding my ankle together – like my own version of Frankenstein. One of the challenges that stands out the most for me was when we were out of Hanoi and searching for food. Being vegans, finding plant-based options was a struggle. Boiled cabbages and rice were the only things we could find. However, walking for 10-11 hours a day requires substantial energy, and we really struggled to find suitable food. Moreover, completing the entire journey without support vehicles meant we had to rely solely on ourselves. This posed logistical challenges, as there was no fallback in case of emergencies. Despite these obstacles, we took pride in our self-sufficiency and resilience throughout the trek.

Did you ever have a moment where you were like, ‘Whoa, should I really be doing this?’ And if so, how did you shake it off and keep going?

Sean Down: There was one instance when I developed a chest infection due to large-scale burning in the area, causing respiratory issues. The next leg of our journey, a challenging 15-kilometer stretch, was particularly tough. Additionally, encountering speeding vehicles passing dangerously close to us at 120 kilometers per hour made me question our decision. On the highway from Qui Nhon to Tuy Hoa, we found ourselves in a precarious situation with trucks whizzing by. While some drivers greeted us with friendly honks, it was deafening and terrifying for us.

Are there any specific milestones or events planned along the way to engage the community involvement?

Jake Norris: In Danang, we organized an event to share information about our trek’s purpose. The following day, 20 individuals joined us on a walk from Danang to Hoi An, showing their support. Our aim is not only to raise awareness but also to encourage more people to participate and contribute to our fundraising efforts. We also hosted an event at a café in Dalat, connecting with the community and garnering additional support for our cause. The kindness of the people we’ve encountered has been remarkable. In Quy Nhon, we were warmly invited to share food and drinks as a sign of support from the local community.

Your trek is backed up by the Australian and Irish Embassies. That’s some serious attention. What do you think interested them?

Jake Norris: We are fortunate to have the support of both the Australian and Irish Embassies. Vietnam and Australia recently celebrated their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and I believe they are invested in giving back to Vietnam. Their assistance in promoting our trek on social media has been instrumental in raising awareness and garnering support. We are grateful for their support and proud to represent Australia and Ireland in this meaningful endeavor.

What’s the main message you want people to take away from your trek about the urgency of addressing human trafficking and supporting vulnerable kids?

Jake Norris: The scale of human trafficking is alarming, and it’s crucial for people to continuously raise awareness about this issue. We don’t need a few people donating a large sum; we need millions of people contributing a few dollars each to effectively combat human trafficking in Vietnam.

Sean Down: Our goal has been to draw public attention to the severity of human trafficking, something many people may not fully understand. Even before I joined this initiative, I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of the problem. Human trafficking isn’t just a Vietnamese issue; it occurs worldwide. Fortunately, in Vietnam, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact, and even a small amount of money can bring about significant change.

As teachers, what impact do you think the trek had on spreading awareness about these issues within educational communities?

Jake Norris: I hope this journey encourages individuals within educational communities to recognize the role they can play as social contributors in Vietnam. My hope is that the younger generation, as they grow up, realize they can make a significant difference simply by spreading the message and contributing through donations.

Sean Down: We’ve learned that doing something good for others is profoundly rewarding. Even if you don’t have much, just contributing a few dollars can make a difference. There are always ways to help, and doing something for others gives your life greater meaning. No matter how small, everyone can contribute in some way.

Reported by The Ky

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