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Foreigners walk from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to help needy kids

Foreigners walk from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to help needy kids

Monday, February 26, 2024, 16:40 GMT+7
Foreigners walk from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to help needy kids
Sean Down (L) and Jake Norris arrive at a welcoming event in Thao Dien Ward in Thu Duc City after finishing their final stretch from the Municipal Theater in District 1 to Thao Dien in Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Vu Thi Loan

As a longtime expat in Ho Chi Minh City, there is nothing that makes me happier or prouder than to see my fellow countrymen making a difference to the lives of those most in need in Vietnam.

Seeing two men walk from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to raise money for underprivileged children has been a real high point in my decade of living in this great country. 

Walking from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is an achievement that few people in history can attest to completing, but on Saturday, two expats, both living in Hanoi, walked into a restaurant in Thao Dien Ward, Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City after completing an 80-day Charity Walk which covered around 2,000km and took in some of the most amazing parts of this country. 

A supplied photo shows Sean Down and Jake Norris being joined by expats in Ho Chi Minh City for their final strecth from the Saigon Opera House in District 1 to Thao Dien in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Duong Van Duoc

A supplied photo shows Sean Down and Jake Norris being joined by expats in Ho Chi Minh City for their final stretch from the Municipal Theater in District 1 to Thao Dien in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Duong Van Duc

Walking to raise money for children in need, Australian Jake Norris and Irish Sean Down started with a dream around three years ago that culminated in them setting out on an adventure to monilize funds for the Blue Dragon Foundation and the Thanh Loc Project, both significant NGOs that do great things for the less fortunate in Vietnam. 

Blue Dragon helps kids in crisis throughout Vietnam. They work with street kids, runaway children, victims of human trafficking, children with disabilities, young rural-urban migrants, kids affected by drugs and HIV/AIDS, homeless families, child prisoners, and the poor living in rural areas.

Operating since 2003, this NGO has helped an uncountable number of children and adults in Vietnam, particularly in the north. 

Thanh Loc Project is an NGO that has been in operation since 2008 and supports children in need across the south. 

"The difference that Jake and Sean have made to the Thanh Loc Project is immense,” said Rod Stone from Thanh Loc Project.

“We are a small boutique NGO and we operate in very remote areas where we can make a significant and sustainable difference through education scholarships and education-based projects. 

“Education is the key to a better life, and our motto is that Everyone Deserves the Right to a Decent Education." 

A significant amount of the money raised in this Charity Walk will go to service the needs of children being supported by the Thanh Loc Project.  

A supplied photo shows Sean Down and Jake Norris being joined by expats in Ho Chi Minh City for their final strecth from the Saigon Opera House in District 1 to Thao Dien in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Duong Van Duoc

A supplied photo shows Jake Norris and Sean Down being joined by expats in Ho Chi Minh City for their final stretch from the Municipal Theater in District 1 to Thao Dien in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Duong Van Duc

Norris, a 36-year-old from South Australia, moved to Hanoi around seven years ago and has been working as a primary school teacher in the country’s capital. 

Down, who is a 44-year-old from Ireland’s capital city of Dublin, has lived in Hanoi for around five years and works as an IELTS examiner in the city.  

“This challenge started almost three years ago as planning and logistics were delayed due to COVID-19”, Norris said.

“The walk was born out of a desire to give back to the country, which has given us so much."  

It was the challenges of the COVID-19 lockdown period that prompted this idea when Norris was stuck in Australia.

With so many in-need children in mind, on December 2, 2023, the two men left the steps of the Opera House in central Hanoi and, unassisted, began the trek from there to Ho Chi Minh City with the focus of raising money and getting to the southern metropolis within the set time.

I sat in the back corner watching the welcoming ceremony and I became a little emotional. I could see the passion and love in the faces of not only these men but so many other people in the room that have supported them.

Norris and Down, much like myself, are ordinary individuals. However, it is the choices they have made, along with their energy and unwavering commitment to helping others, that distinguish them from the rest. For this reason, I am truly in awe and immensely proud of what they have accomplished.

Speakers at the welcoming ceremony included Vi Do, CEO of Blue Dragon, who gave an inspiring look at the true value of helping others and noted that over 1,500 trafficked children have been saved by the group.

Rod Stone and Ngan Le from the Thanh Loc Project also shared their stories of success, including that the NGO has supplied over 1,000 years of education since starting. It was also interesting to hear from Norris and Down, who shared their experiences of the walk. 

Sean Down and Jake Norris are welcomed by Rod Stone from the Thanh Loc Project as they arrive at a welcoming event in Thao Dien Ward in Thu Duc City after finishing their final strecth from Saigon Opera House in District 1 to Thao Dien, in Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Vu Thi Loan / Tuoi Tre News

Jake Norris and Sean Down are welcomed by Rod Stone from the Thanh Loc Project as they arrived at a welcoming event in Thao Dien Ward, Thu Duc City after finishing their final stretch from the Municipal Theater in District 1 to Thao Dien in Ho Chi Minh City on February 24, 2024. Photo: Vu Thi Loan

And, I suppose, in that moment, I realized that every effort made by all of us, not just Norris and Down but also all the donors and support people, culminates in a child walking into a school and receiving an education.

It ends up as a child getting the opportunity to learn how to use a computer or maybe even get a degree.

It will also give a homeless teenager a bed and it might even mean that a young girl stolen from her village will, one day, feel the warmth of her mother’s embrace again.

This is what this commitment and focus has achieved.

While the primary reason and motivation for this event are to assist those most in need, it is also an opportune moment to commend Norris and Down. After covering 2,000km on foot through almost every conceivable weather condition, the accomplishments they have achieved should not be underestimated.

But rather than sinking back into normality, the boys are already motivated and looking ahead at another Charity Walk in the future.

Supporting children in Vietnam holds great importance to them, and both are dedicated to undertaking this challenge again in the future to continue assisting kids in need throughout Vietnam.

As I sit in the back of the welcoming party in Ho Chi Minh City, the sea of smiles reminds me of what a wonderful country Vietnam is.

It reminds me that it is possible for anyone to make a difference and it is appreciated by so many when you do.

While we take pride in our origins, I can observe that there is a collective sense of being, if only to a small extent, Vietnamese.

This is because Vietnam is a country of remarkable people with a strong sense of community.

As expatriates, we consider ourselves privileged to partake in the vibrant spirit and rich culture of Vietnam.

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Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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