Going The Distance
More than 2,000 participants, including Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, Mayor of South East District, turned up in slippers for the Project Happy Feet Slipper Race in Singapore in 2013.
Singapore-based non-profit organisation Project Happy Feet partners aid organisations around Asia to deliver educational and training-related initiatives and programmes that uplift the lives of underprivileged children in the region.
BY SASHA GONZALES
PHOTOS PROJECT HAPPY FEET
hen long-time friends Deborah Chew and Grace Chia visited Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2007, their hearts broke at what they saw at a village school. Many children walked barefoot to school every day since they did not own any footwear, while basic school equipment, such as a broken chalkboard, needed repair.
At the time, Chew was a secondary school teacher and Chia, a polytechnic lecturer. After returning to Singapore and sharing what they saw with friends, they decided to go back to the village once they had raised money for footwear and school supplies for the children. In 2008, they and their friends returned to the same village and a few others in Siem Reap to give clothing, school supplies, slippers and other items bought with US$20,000 (S$28,000) they had raised.
Participants of PHF Slipper Race in Cebu in 2015 compete in station games after the walk.
PHF volunteers on a visit to non-profi t organisation This Life Cambodia and its benefi ciaries in Siem Reap in 2014.
The pair called their undertaking Project Happy Feet (PHF). “We thought that it would only be a one-off but, after the trip, everyone felt that we had stumbled on something meaningful.
Our family and friends also wanted to support the cause, so we decided to formalise it,” says Chia.
In 2009, PHF was registered as a social enterprise in Singapore to empower underprivileged children in the Republic and in developing countries by supporting education and training-related initiatives and programmes. Ultimately, it hopes to alleviate poverty through these programmes.
Some of its flagship events include Chefs for a Cause, where celebrity chefs raise funds for a particular charity, and PHF Slipper Race, where participants walk in slippers to raise funds for children in Singapore and overseas.
PHF is run entirely by volunteers to ensure that all the funds raised through donations and fund-raising projects are channelled back to its beneficiaries. Since the non-profit organisation was registered, it has collected more than S$500,000 through public and private fundraisers and given away every cent.
Making a difference at home and abroad
PHF’s efforts are far-reaching, thanks to its many joint projects with aid organisations overseas.
In particular, it has made great strides in helping young people around Asia escape their povertystricken conditions.
In Siem Reap, it has partnered with non-profit organisation This Life Cambodia to support the Lower Secondary School Development Program, which empowers villages to solve their own challenges regarding the education of its lower secondary school children.
PHF’s funds support this programme by paying for training fees. For example, parents learn agricultural skills to grow cash crops and support their family while their children go to school.
In Nepal, PHF worked with Singapore-based educational project Make Learning Possible and non-governmental organisation Be Human Nepal to help raise funds for the rebuilding of a primary school in Namkheli, a village in a remote region of the Himalayas that was devastated by the 2015 earthquake.
Says Chew: “This initiative came about when two Singaporean PHF volunteers, Lester and Sox, visited the village and fell in love with it. They wanted to support the community there but, as individuals, they weren’t able to carry out any fund raising in Singapore. As such, PHF ‘adopted’ the avid adventurers into PHF.”
In Hanoi, it has partnered the Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (HSCV), an organisation that works with orphans, homeless children and other children in need, to give scholarships to children whose families are financially challenged. These scholarships pay for their school fees and allow them to complete their school terms.
What’s heartening about PHF’s work is that several of its beneficiaries also give back to society, such as Nga, 24, from Vietnam. She was orphaned at a young age and brought up by the Social Patron Centre in Thai Binh province in northern Vietnam, and later by an uncle. Her uncle’s family was poor so, to supplement the household income, she gave tuition three times a week in between classes.
Nga received a full year of post-high school educational scholarship, thanks to the funds raised by PHF.
When she was a fourth-year student at the Hanoi Teacher Training University in 2012, Nga worked as a tutor and volunteered at a centre for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
She says that she finds a lot of joy in giving back. “I feel lucky to (have received my) sponsorship from Project Happy Feet through HSCV, so I wish to help others in need as well,” she adds.
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