Jake Norris (36 from South Australia) and Sean Down (44 from Ireland) are scheduled to spend three months walking 2,000 km from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City via a mountainous route that has never before been attempted. They hope to raise more than US$200,000, which will be divided equally between the two charities – Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and Thanh Loc project.
The Australian Embassy is sponsoring the walkers in recognition of Australia’s commitment to counter-trafficking and as part of its activities marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Jake, who has lived in Hanoi for seven years, and his teammates at the Vietnam Swans AFL club (Australian rules football) visit an orphanage every year to play with the kids and bring them gifts. This highlighted the difficult lives some children have in Vietnam and Jake felt an urge to help change the situation. His ambitious idea of a charity walk began to form during the COVID lockdown three years ago.
“I finally had time to really start planning something – something that would create significant change,” he says. “I wanted to give back to the country and its people who have given me so much.”
When Jake’s original partner pulled out, Sean stepped in to revive The Vietnam Charity Walk. Having quit their jobs in May to focus on training and fundraising, the pair began to set off on the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail on December 2, departing from Hanoi’s Opera House.
They plan to stop at every orphanage on their way and look forward to engaging with the local communities and raising awareness of how many kids need help in Vietnam. As animal lovers, they will also stop at animal shelters along the route.
Explaining their choice of route, Sean says: “One reason we chose such a difficult route away from the flat, major highways people usually use, is to give ourselves more chances to be among local communities. Our trail adds an extra challenge because it’s longer, sparsely populated, and mountainous in parts.”
Jake concludes: “I’m a bit worried because I’m an athlete, I’ve played AFL most of my life, and the knees, ankles and hips aren’t getting any younger. But I love a challenge! Three long years of preparation and several false starts later, we’re finally about to begin.”
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.
Since September, Sean and Jake have raised US$12,500 towards the cause through events in Hanoi, including AU$5,000 from the Australian Embassy.